The Path of Least Resistance

Nan S. Russell

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I spend a bit of time on airplanes. So, I was surprised by what I observed on a regional jet. Yes, it was holiday travel. Yes, the flight was overbooked. Yes, infrequent and tired travelers were creating challenges for the only stewardess. Still, she saw the small boy, no more than eight, seated in the exit row next to his grandfather. She chose to ignore him, wishing and hoping her safety message stating a person must be over fifteen to sit in the exit row would fix it. Maybe she didn't want the hassle of trying to reseat passengers on an already late flight. Maybe she was tired, too. Who knows?

What I do know is that despite the safety implications of her decision, she chose the path of least resistance that day. And she's not alone. Many people take that path at work. They choose the easier way rather than doing what needs to be done. But, the path of least resistance leads away from winning at working.

You'll be on that path if you turn a blind eye to something you know needs solving but you don't want to address it or “rock the boat;" or you let a mistake pass your desk for someone else to catch and fix because it's too complicated or time-consuming; or you ignore a difficult person or a recurring problem because you don't want to create unpleasantness or deal with conflict; or you pass off a poor performer to another department rather than face the difficult conversation; or you resolve the customer complaint without calling out or solving the bigger issues behind it.

In my thinking, that's the adult equivalent of my son, as a child, pretending he never noticed the toilet paper roll needed replacing. He'd leave a sheet or two on the cardboard tube so he didn't have to be the one to do anything about it. Of course no one in the house was fooled. No one at work is either.

In twenty years of management, I've learned that the difference between doing the right thing and the easy thing significantly differentiates people's performance. We can debate what the right thing to do is at any given time. Sometimes, it might be choosing the more difficult, challenging, time-consuming path or the one that comes with more risk. But like my son and that stewardess, I think most of us know what the right thing is most of the time, and we know when we've chosen the easier way.

In Lee Ann Womack's country hit, “I Hope You Dance, " there's a great line that applies as much to work as it does to life: “I hope you'll never fear those mountains in the distance; Never settle for the path of least resistance. " You see, if you want to be winning at working, you can't fear the mountains of change, discomfort, conflict, unpleasantness, hard work, or difficult choices.

(c) 2005 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.

Sign up to receive Nan's free biweekly eColumn at Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. She has held leadership positions in Human Resource Development, Communication, Marketing and line Management. Nan has a B. A. from Stanford University and M. A. from the University of Michigan. Currently working on her first book, Winning at Working: 10 Lessons Shared, Nan is a writer, columnist, small business owner, and on-line instructor. Visit or contact Nan at .


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