Sense of Purpose and Obstinacy @work

Peace everyone.
This discussion is a bit abstract in nature, so please bear with me on this.
Most successful people almost never take a NO for an answer, in the sense that they keep doing their level best to achieve their goals and objectives. There is no ‘Quit’ in an individual with a strong sense of purpose.attitude-problem
However, there is a very fine line between sense of purpose and obstinacy. When you successfully achieve your objectives, your ‘obstinacy’ or ‘stubbornness’ is portrayed as “insight, determination and strength of purpose” by others. If, however, you fail, or are in the process of achieving your aim, you are usually considered to be within the ‘obstinacy’ territory.
Coming to the real question – is it ok to be stubborn? What differentiates sense of purpose from obstinacy, and how can we make sure that we dont forget the difference between them, while trying our level best to achieve our goals. People with these traits usually develop other ‘side effects’ like egotism, attitude problems, and in certain extreme cases, even anger management issues. 
How do you cope with ‘being successful’, and ‘not being a jerk’ at the same time?  Also, how would you go about interacting with people who tend to be like this? Please share your personal experiences.
Comments appreciated, with rationale.


  • Excellent question and great comments so far. I believe that if you are clear on what your goals are, and become really present with them, your real job is not to be stubborn or obstinate, but your job is to maintain belief that your goals are possible and that you’re on your way to achieving them. This may be painted in a negative light, but you must remain true to yourself. You must also be able to adapt when the occasion calls for it – if you’re unable to adapt, you may be labeled as a jerk – something that is not advisable.
    However, if your goal is simply to avoid being labeled a certain way, you’re missing the mark. When you’re confronted by a decision (as we all are numerous times a day), ask yourself 2 questions: 1. Will this bring me closer to my goal?, and 2. Will I harm anyone in the process? If the answers are Yes and No – then take the action with confidence. If the answer is anything else, then move on. Adaptability and focus are key when pursuing goals. Fear of labels or rejection should never enter the equation.

  • Oh, it depends. It depends on your rank, longevity, popularity, and how many people with power are supporting you. If you are at the top, wildly popular and successful and backed by a board then you can be stubborn for a long time while you get results. When the results cease, watch your back.
    Most people need to be more moderate and get along. As far as working with stubborn people with anger management issues, well, I try not to.

  • Zohaib:
    I enjoyed reading the answers and I think most of the points have been covered. If one is not open to new ideas/suggestions and refuses to see the larger picture and is not a team player – surely, no idea can be implemented.
    Coping with the overlapping identities is not tough if you are consciously aware that ideas differ and perceptions are bound be different. That calls for a high degreee of sensitivity, patience and tolerance towards colleagues and subordinates.
    When it comes to interacting with people who sometimes fail to see the point, I personally prefer to let the matter rest for a day and then revive the conversation the next day. It helps.

  • Persistent is continuing to make your case until the decision about how the team will proceed is made. Thereafter, it’s stubbornness, and probably not the best thing for your career — unless you succeed.

  • zohaib
    “every mighty oak was once a nut that stood its ground”.
    only time will decide who is that oak and who is still that nut continuing to stand his ground.
    the oak will be more genial while the nut will be short tempered and display attitude. this doesn’t mean that the oak is good or correct or had a good business model….he is just the more successful of the two.
    you as a wise individual should have the statesmanship to take both types in your stride.

  • It has been my experience that stubbornness, no matter how correct you may or may not be, is always viewed as: being obstinate, not being a team player, not having listening skills, not listening to facts, and/or being a disruptive presence.
    The only time I’ve seen it viewed as a positive is if you are the owner, related to him, or hired by him.
    Ask me how I’ve reached this conclusion.

  • Is it OK to be stubborn? Not if you are closing your mind to the bigger picture and causing negative impact on all those who are dependent upon your original goals and objectives. If you are constantly fact and status checking and asking critical questions of yourself and your motivations then some stubbornness may be permissible. This type of obstinacy would be more defined as determination.
    If you lack the ability to seek wise counsel, be self critical and honestly reflective of your motivations then your obstinacy becomes jerkish and you risk losing support and followers.

  • t porbably isn’t right to be stubbourn – not in the real sense- digging your heels in ‘just because you think you’re right’ – but it is right to stick to your idea if you really believe that you haven’t fully explored or exhausted the possibilities. But then that’s the other thought – are you just exhausting the possibilities of your idea because you are being stubbourn and don’t want to let go…? The trick then, as the observer or manager of the stubbourn, must be to look at the process so far and make a judgement when to call a halt. At the same time working to ensure that the valued items discovered on the way (if there were any) are retained and investigated at some other time. Most ideas have some value somewhere.
    You have to make the ‘stubbourn’ individual feel that they have indeed contributed, and foster an environment where not everyone has to have all the complete answers all of the time! How exhausting would that be!

  • I think that having a rigid sense of what the goal is sets one up to fail or worse, to find oneself in a moral quagmire. This kind of rigidity is usually tied up with Ego. “I will make $1000.00 and not a penny less.” Is rigid. “I want to be the top earner in my field and I am seeking the training I need” is not.
    Setting a goal, a reason for the goal, realistic means to achieve it and rules of the game for achieving it, is having a sense of purpose. Circumstances change and opportunities wax and wane. Someone with a sense of purpose is flexible enough to take advantage of opportunities to the goal yet not be distracted by troubles or perceived opportunities that don’t fit the plan. I think it is also important to pursue your goal in the larger context of ones community. If you frame success as defeating others, they may have their own views on who is to lose and there are more of “Them”.
    In psychology this is also the difference between health narcissism and a narcissistic disorder.

  • Persistence in pursuit of goals, when viewed in a non-judgemental (or value-neutral) light might always be seen as admirable, but one must also admit that not all goals are admirable.

  • In my younger years I was viewed as being stubborn, pigheaded and obstinate. In my middle years I am viewed as being stubborn, unrelenting and focused. I have not changed. But my approach has.
    How? In my younger years it was all about ME. In my middle years, it is all about US and the greater good of the collective.
    Bottom line: if your intent is for anything other than yourself, you will be very successful and your stubborn/obstinant traits will be accepted and embraced. If your intent is for only yourself, you will fail.

  • Having a sense of purpose requires an overriding vision and confidence in your convictions that compels you to keep reaching for your goals, despite a lack of support from others or even being derided for your efforts. Obstinacy, by comparison, is a static point of view from which an individual will not budge and is not forward thinking.

  • Once a question was asked, What is a leader? If you worry about such things, then you are not.

  • I love the question and will have to think about my answer but wanted to know I could find the question again in a few days and have a look at other’s responses.

  • As you point out, everything is relative to other’s perceptions, and as that is the case, all one can do is to be true to one’s self. One must risk being labeled negatively to succeed these days, as unfortunate as that may be. Cheers. Walls.

  • he equation is simple. Read “=” as “proportional / related to”:
    Post = Terms of Engagement = Remuneration = Company’s Expectation = Employee’s Deliverable.
    If this achieves equilibrium (nothing under, nothing over), there remains no room for obstinate or senseless purposes

  • What an interesting question. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading the responses.
    My view is that learning how to climb down gracefully in the face of majority opposition is a much under rated skill. However, it is crucially important for a leader or manager to know when and how to quit. So why is our mule reluctant to climb down and divert energy to something else? Could it be fear of appearing to be weak? Could it be that the mule is afraid that they will not get support for their next project if it’s deemed that they wasted time and energy going up a blind alley? I don’t know the culture or values of your organisation but could this be the case?
    It’s sad when leaders and managers do not understand the value in admitting a mistake. Employees find the occasional blunder endearing when acknowledged with a little humility. Nobody wants to work for Superman!

  • I would say…. I am a polite jerk and love being that. I think being determined or obstinate is a play on words. Infact the word “success” is another word in english dictionary. So why worry? Didn’t I say I was a polite jerk. 🙂

  • courage is in the heart, a feeling that tells you to keep going when the mind and logic question you or stop you.
    but at the same time, it is always better to brave the odds with people than alone, so weigh your position with a question – how many people are walking with me willingly?

  • This is a great question! The first person that comes to mind is Louis Pasteur, who when asked the ‘secret’ to his success, remarked “Tenacity”.
    What defines the difference between sense of purpose and obstinacy is in the eye of the beholder, and the eventual outcome. Stubbornness is associated with Pride, and the individual that is truly stubborn (which I would suggest is when they know they are fighting a losing battle, or have indeed already lost but refuse to admit defeat) is usually miserable, and angry.
    However, that being said, history is strewn with stories of people who made their mark at the chagrin of their family, colleagues and even society, having been written off as an obstinate fool. Most of our modern invention and technology are proof of the relentless vision of some pretty stubborn people, to whom I am very grateful!
    To the last point, as how to cope with being successful without being a jerk….Be Humble. Have a sober assessment of yourself, and know that whatever talent and intelligence you have has been given to you by God. The opportunities that you had that were timely, and available to you, were divine appointments.
    When I am in the company of a person like this (the Successful Jerk) I am professional, pleasant, and short on conversation…leaving him or her to bask in their Glory alone.

  • Padric O'Rouark

    So far the comments largely seem to be about “persistence” as a value system with justifiable goals and “stubbornness” as a blind refusal to stand down when one is plainly in the wrong.
    I think a primary issue regarding the difference between stubbornness and persistence is the area of believing you are in the right. This overshadows almost every other value in the whole idea of persistence and stubbornness.
    Generally speaking, religious leaders believe they are in the right because God chose them and placed them in charge. Political, corporate and even social arbiters (celebs) follow this trend and since they are in positions of power they remain convinced of their rightness. Gangsters and other power-mongers are no different. It is the pathology of power.
    The result is when they fall or fail they discover or rediscover God and become born again. It’s a way of saying that was the “old me” but the “new me” has real power. I think they are hyper-stubborn and pathologically persistent to a degree that cannot acknowledge or understand the truth of what motivates them.
    The petty tyrants are a different sort and it is largely insecurity that motivates them. We see this daily in the bozo that persists in driving slowly in the passing lane. They must prove they have some sort of control or power over others. If they persist in their petty tyranny they run into someone who turns the tables or they get the crap kicked out of them.
    Then there is basic human nature.
    At a birthday party I watched thee children share out their rubber bats based on an obscure color based value system. As they played a mock sword fighting game a fourth child without knowledge of their special rules grabbed the blue bat temporarily set down by the person who previously set up the rules, and joined in. They all began to beat on him based upon his usurpation of the blue bat. But he blindly if stubbornly persisted because he believed he had as much right to play it his way since the bats were common property (not owned by any of the children who set up the rules). That kid never dropped that bat despite the rubber bat beatings that ensued.
    There is a difference between courage and stupid; between commitment and psychosis. Some fanatical people actually believe their habituated value systems are justified and wholesome.
    Most of us would like to think we have the right of things; that we are justified and have goodness on our side. I think it is often the case that we need a healthful scale of values and balanced ethics with which to measure our goals.

Leave a Reply