Posts Tagged ‘can stubbornness ever be good’


Stubbornness. It is a word that is laden with meaning that is unique to each person. Most of the time when we describe someone as stubborn, there is a negative connotation to it. Tenacity is the more positive counterpart to stubbornness. I’ll venture to guess that many great leaders throughout history have been described as stubborn by their opponents and tenacious by their proponents.

I have been called both stubborn and tenacious and I have wondered what it means, what to do with this information about myself. I have also known other leader-type people who struggled with this sense of stubbornness/tenacity, like me, not knowing quite what to do with themselves. So, I wanted to explore the difference between the obstinate type of stubborn and the good tenacious brand of stubbornness. When is it good to hang on and when is it good to let go? Especially in the realm of leadership, and especially we who are women in leadership, we need to know the difference. We cannot allow even well meaning people to keep us down, but we cannot be pigheaded and set in our ways, or we will be stunted in our personal growth.

One key to navigating this stuff is first in knowing where your personal power/influence begins and ends. We have to be willing to allow another person to affect us. Bad stubbornness builds an impenetrable wall to protect ourselves from being affected by people. Obstinate people shut down when they don’t win, rather than opening up and learning something from the whole experience. They use the silent treatment; they resort to punishing others. Obstinate people think that they can exert unearned, illegitimate power over others. So often they do not even recognize the state that they are in. That is why if you respectfully disagree with an obstinate person, they may only accuse you of being stubborn.

When we dig our heels in on issues where we have no or very little clarity of thought and are unwilling to explore the issue further, those are also seeds of obstinance. Sometimes we don’t know why we do this. If we are constantly drawing a line in the sand and vowing never to change even though we have no reasoning to back it up, we need to take a look at some of the deeper causes of our behaviors. Are we acting this way because of how we were made to feel as a kid or because we feel powerless and frightened inside? What are the underlying fears that cause us to behave the way that we do?

Tenacious people stick to their convictions, but they know the limits to how they can exercise these convictions within their spheres of influence. They are willing to reap the consequences of the decisions that they make. This trait is valuable to a leader because they can patiently stick with something they believe in and forge the path ahead of them with confidence. Their principles are in line with the way that they behave. It helps to be able to articulate these principles for others so that they can decide if this is the type of leadership they will be willing to follow.

Part of the reason we perceive people stubborn or tenacious is the fact that we all have different issues we think are important. We can label someone stubborn about something because an issue close to their heart is not something we think is worth fighting for. This is where I think we have to be careful about the stubborn label. A passionate person cannot impose his or her passion on another, but he or she has every right to express that passion respectfully and peacefully.

I cannot decide for you which issues are negligible and which mountains you should be willing to die on. I can try to influence you one way or another, but in the end it’s your life, your choices. Some people are born to give their lives to a cause, a belief, a way of life. Those people will display tenacity in areas where you may not.

How do you show tenacity? And how do you know the difference between tenacity and obstinance in your life?