It can be said that stubbornness is a trait of people in the Midwest. While growing up on a farm in South Dakota, stubbornness came out in sticking to the status quo or weathering whatever unexpected situations came into our path. In farming, there are many more elements that are uncontrollable than controllable, so maybe this sense of being stubborn comes from this lopsided formula.

The same can be said for certain patients, especially the ones who are trying to survive or recover from a major health issue. Stubbornness shines in their never quitting. Never giving up can be a good form of stubbornness.

In both cases, being stubborn plays a role, but it is not an enduring trait. Farmers know that they must adapt to be able to survive. From crop rotation to using satellite technology, farmers have put aside their stubbornness and embraced change. The same can be said of patients. To recover, they listen to clinicians and physical therapists, trying new approaches to gain their lives back. Learning, trying, and persevering tamp down stubbornness, and life-changing and life-survival adaptation prevails.

stubbornness leadership traitStubbornness in the Workplace

In our workplaces and communities, we encounter those stubborn leaders. We may point to entrepreneurial situations in which we say that, if it was not for the entrepreneur’s stubbornness, the venture would have never succeeded. We point to community and political leaders who stick to their positions no matter what, and we say how principled they are.

The reality is that we are substituting stubbornness for the real virtues of patience, perseverance, courage, learning to grow, and changing to thrive. Stubborn entrepreneurs rarely succeed. Stubborn political leaders lack moral courage and, eventually, fail.

Negative Side of True Stubbornness

The negative side of true stubbornness creates barriers at every turn and delivers missteps at great costs.

  • When their ideas are the only ones worth considering, stalemate turns to dis-innovation, market share loses, and employee disengagement.
  • When conversations drag on, repeating ground already covered many times before, the objective becomes wearing everyone down rather than getting the best ideas on the table.
  • When an organizational culture remains stagnated, change is sought by employees going to more progressive and intention-based companies.

Stubbornness is not a leadership virtue. It is a leadership failure.

The Audacity of Stubborn Leaders 

Stubbornness is not a leadership virtue. It is a leadership failure.


How do we ensure that we do not become that stubborn leader?

In many ways, there is an unsubtle difference between being stubborn and leading with the virtue of perseverance, patience, courage, and growth. The gap is wide.

Just think of it in this way. The best ways to describe stubbornness is bullheadedness or obstinateness. Some will fool themselves and think stubbornness is being tough-minded. They are only fooling themselves. Stubbornness is simply self-centeredness.

Preventing Stubborn Leadership

To avoid being stubborn, apply these instead:


To persevere, it takes a strong leadership philosophy, which means a willingness to alter direction or practices to achieve a common good goal. Preventing stubbornness is then knowing what the greater purpose or common good is and then working with others to determine the best options, plans, and way forward. If these actions do not describe what you are doing, you may be stubborn.


To be patient, it takes a sense of timing. Patience is not waiting your turn or stalling to get your way. Patience is taking the time to combine the right mix of thoughtfulness with action. Being patient is a mix of strategy, action, metrics, and a willingness to adapt. If these actions do not describe the way you are leading, then you may be stubborn.


To be growth-oriented, it takes an attitude and behavior to drop certain beliefs and engage better ones. Having a growth mindset means always learning while converting what is learned to new actions. Being a growth-oriented leader is not for the faint of heart nor is it superficial. Individuals know when you are just talking about growth or change with no growth or change. Be real and substantive. If you are doing things the same way this year as you did two years ago, you may be stubborn.


When you have an inkling of stubbornness, replace it with fortitude. Fortitude is strength of character to navigate difficult situations with grace and courage. In our society, we are missing grace and moral courage. Fortitude grows in strength as new information is absorbed and new collaborative energy is untapped. When leaders incite this type of fortitude, positive change materializes. Fortitude gives us more than survival; it releases momentum to thrive. If people around you are timid and worthy initiatives are often scrapped, you may be a stubborn leader.

Be a Persevering, Patient, and Growth-Oriented Leader

How do you avoid being a stubborn individual? Be a leader who demonstrates real perseverance, patience, growth, and fortitude. Be a leader who avoids using stubbornness as an excuse for having a backbone. A real leader has the backbone of perseverance, patience, growth, and fortitude. Stubbornness is just a self-importance crutch.

Focus on the bigger mission. Adapt to achieve the greater mission.


Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash


Stubbornness is sometimes viewed as a positive leadership trait. It is not. Stubbornness becomes an excuse for self-centered, ineffective leadership.