What stops you from doing the things you need to do?

In this article I would like to explore the concept of internal and external barriers that affect you as a leader in your organisation.

Whilst some obstacles are good for you and they develop your fortitude and resolve to win, some obstacles carry a stark negative energy and are designed to defeat you or hold you up for as long as possible They can affect you at any given time and hopefully you will develop a pathway to recognising them sooner and gain some tools on how to move them, get through them or at least get around them.


Internal obstacles are very difficult to manage, the contention of whether the obstacle is in your mind because it is self imposed due to poor interpretation of an event, or is it a reasonable assessment of an event and therefore requires careful negotiating, or is it a culmination of thoughts around your life episodes that has started to self refer to you about how you see yourself in the world in the eyes of others.

Whilst that is cogent, the truth is that you don’t often take the time to pay any form of attention to the things that you say about yourself to yourself. In other words how you observe and project yourself in this world in your own eyes. In fact, sometimes the obstacle does not actually exist in the outer world, but is something you have created in your inner world and then it becomes a reality to you.

The challenge is that internal obstacles are internal obstacles. Unless you audibly describe or act out your thoughts around the internal obstacles, then those around you will not be aware of the obstacle exist and will continue to treat and experience you based on what you portray. This level of behaviour can cause anxieties, double mindedness, poor judgement and decision-making, poor self esteem and psychological self harm which leads to poor mental health.

Let me give you an example:

Some internal obstacles can be around how you think you look, too thin, too fat, too tall, too short, too light, too dark.

Sometimes an internal observation from your perspective of your culture can be an inhibitor, you can be over concerned as how you are perceived because of your religion or your status in life. Being too rich or too poor, having a low level of educational attainment, or being highly educated, living in a council estate or having the palatial mansion in the greenbelt.

Each obstacle that arises needs to have two for reflective assessment and it is the thing that is said to yourself after the analysis that really does matter.


External ones seem to be more obvious, but they do come in all sizes, shapes and forms, but often come from people. People put obstacles in our way through envy, fear and anxiety for their promotion and your downfall or simply because of a need to be understood.

I’ve noticed this type of obstacle deployment behaviour is prevalent in the boardroom where there is a jostling for power, but I’ve also noticed it in the workplace, it happens in the accountancy firm, the law office, the design studio, the building site, the school, the sales team, the HR team and it often happens amongst senior managers where there is a lot of competition and one wants to outshine their peer to their bosses.

The sad fact is that rarely do we find a physical barrier, obstruction, or a sabotage is a simply a mistake, but is usually designed and plotted carefully. Find a way round, through, over or across.

As a leader in your organisation you have to look for the particular reason why someone may have put an obstacle in your own pathway. Don’t be too quick to jump to any conclusions, the reason may not be the one you initially understood it to be. Be cognisant of the fact that human beings are subtle and often act unconsciously, the power of putting yourself in someone else’s mind, whilst acknowledging that even our own behaviour (conscious and unconscious) can be provoking, may help you to unravel the reasons.

Without blame consider how things could have have been different, what could you have done, said or requested that would have produced a different outcome and have prevented the obstacles being placed in your way. Talk about obstacles with others, sense check but don’t be too swayed by others naysaying or jumping to agreement.

Develop the capacity to trust your instincts, but keep on testing by asking others questions like, “I wonder if this idea seems strange or even stupid to you and that your first reaction would be to try and kill it dead?”. The other person then experiences you as having the ability to imagine what might be in their mind and this creates a shift in the relationship between you, it is in these shifts that a positive dialogue can occur and change can happen.

What was the last obstacle that stopped you in your tracks?

Do you think you need help with you with your internal obstacle?