Leadership Development Team Development

Loyal Resistance

Having worked with thousands of leaders and their teams for the last decade, I often struggle to articulate how the best leaders develop high performing teams. In reading Mary Beth O’Neill’s book* on executive coaching, I found a two-word phrase which summarizes effective leadership quite elegantly. This simple phrase, “loyal resistance” summarizes two critical leadership behaviors.

Great leaders must be loyal. They support their team; encourage direct reports and work for the common good. Most people describe great leaders as supportive, encouraging and helpful.

But it takes more than loyalty to be a great leader. The best leaders also resist–resist the temptation to take the easy way out; resist settling for second best; resist blaming others for our own shortcomings. Leaders must challenge, push and demand excellence from their teams. For many of us, the greatest leaders we have experienced are the ones who pushed us the hardest.

Loyalty and resistance exist in tension. The best leaders constantly assess the people they work with and adjust their approach, offering greater loyalty or resistance as the situation warrants.

Think for a moment about a tension rod – the spring loaded bar that holds up a shower curtain in a bathroom. Both sides of the rod push against the wall, holding the curtain in place. In the same way, loyalty AND resistance must push against each other in order to bear the weight of leadership.

How would your teammates, colleagues or direct reports describe your balance of loyalty and resistance? Do you need to adjust your focus on one more than the other? To determine if you should make some adjustments, consider the following questions:

  1. Do I regularly set lofty goals for myself and my teamand measure my progress toward growth? (Resistance)
  2. Do I help my direct reports and peers succeed?Do I work for “team wins” rather than individual victories? (Loyalty)

Let me suggest a New Years Resolution. Evaluate how effectively you use Loyal Resistance as you lead. Make adjustments to find the right balance and turbo charge your leadership effectiveness for 2018.


Executive Coaching with Backbone and Heart: A Systems Approach to Engaging Leaders with their Challenges, Jossey-Bass, 2007