One Essential of a Great Leader

Growth often results from pain and discomfort.  Sometimes suffering yields obvious and tangible results in and of itself (like exercise) whereas other times it is our response to suffering that determines whether we become bitter or better.  Despite our fear of being broken, if we embrace and effectively move through challenge, we can better lead and grow.


My dad recently learned that a manager he worked for 30 years ago had just died.  So he called this former manager’s wife to pay his respects.  When she picked up the phone, my dad cried… and continued to cry as the woman consoled him.  What type of manager elicits that type of response from someone he managed 30 years ago!!?  What was the one essential characteristic of Jim Bagan that caused my dad to weep 30 years later?  He had a system of prescribed activities and methods that produced predictable results.  He evangelized the system and he relentlessly coached everyone with the belief that they were capable of living the system.  At one point, my dad nearly quit.  And 30 years later he wept at the impact.

Power in organizations today is more decentralized than it was 30 years ago.  Our culture is less accepting of leaders who demand adherence to their system.  So perhaps it’s more difficult to lead like Jim Bagan in today’s wear-what-you-want, work-when-and-where-you-want and do-it-your-way mentality.  Amidst our celebration of the “results-oriented week”, perhaps we need to recommit to discipline and the pain that comes with it.

Here are three ways we could show “Leadership in Discomfort”:

1. Cast a transformational vision.  In his book, Visioneering, Andy Stanley describes the important role leaders play in painting a picture of a future state that may seem impossible to others.  We can inspire greatness when we maintain and communicate a powerful image of what people can become.  Let’s not see people and ideas for their current failings but rather for their future possibilities.

2. Run a system.  Great coaches have a system, with prescribed activities, cadences and methods.  I always appreciated playing for athletic coaches and attending camps where the regimen pushed my comfort zone and freed me to perform rather than second-guess my direction.

3. Lean into discomfort.  This is my greatest challenge – leaning into discomfort and trusting that suffering produces growth.  I want to be liked, to make people happy, not to be in pain and inflict it upon others.  But what if my desire to keep the peace in the short-term mutes the potential for fuller richness and life in the long-term?

If our intent is to build and uplift others, leading through discomfort make take people to a place they couldn’t have gone on their own.

Where do you need to embrace suffering as a key to growth?



You may also like