It is everyone’s dream – a corner office, a commensurate salary, respect and recognition from your peers. Leadership has its privileges, if not immediately at least eventually. From the first experiences of being a leader, which most people do not readily identify as such, until one’s name becomes synonymous with the term, persons in whom the gift of leadership resides are on a path to greater dimensions of significance. You get better at what you do and it shows.
The manifestation of truly superlative leadership is filled with nuance. Taken by themselves the nuances are almost imperceptible but in a package they point to someone great and something significant.
But there is a perfect storm that will almost certainly shipwreck even the most promising career. It is the convergence of Too Much, Too Soon, Too Easy.
Happily most of us will not experience it but enough do that it warrants our attention. And who among us wouldn’t prefer an even shorter, less rocky path to success? We see those for whom success comes early in their career, to whom larger amounts of money flows, unto whom higher accolades gather…and a tinge of envy, perhaps even resentment speaks in a small voice inside our heads.
But having lived long enough to be looking a life from the far side, I can assure you that the ones to be pitied and fearful for are not those of you who struggle in the path for success. It is those who got too much too soon too easily.
Surprisingly, thoroughbred horses, those who perform the best on the track are not coddled. They are subjected to strenuous conditioning, hard and at times harsh treatment designed to bring out the horse’s strengths and strengthen his weaknesses.
It is counterintuitive to what we might prefer to think. I know it is counterintuitive to what I would want.
But we must ask…and answer why. There are six reasons. Here they are:
- Effective and superlative leadership comes from those who understand that leadership and power is not about steel held in their hands but about the steel in their hearts. Leadership is the ability to possess and draw upon moral courage and whose values are rooted within moral fortitude. There is often an easy way in juxtaposition to the right way. It demands steel in the heart to make those kinds of decisions…steel that has been forged in the fires of adversity, struggle, and growth.
- People who’ve come by too much too soon too easily tend to become hard-hearted and hard-nosed whereas those whose growth into leadership has come from a series of successful, moral, and courageous encounters with the exigencies of life tend to be neither. Their strength is that of character formed over time and under pressure. Insensitivity is the direct result of ignorance of or disregard for the struggles of others.
- We all have feet of clay but those who have come by position and power easily seem to lose awareness of it. The consequential blindness manifests itself in arrogance, conceit, haughtiness, and hubris. An intolerance for the failing and feelings of others results.
- Those who have had life and its privileges handed to them tend to expect that life and others owe them something. Those of that ilk tend to demand respect while the character made manifest in those who have earned it command respect. The difference is subtle but significant.
- Having experienced pain firsthand, we are well-prepared to tackle painful things and tackle them first. Superlative leaders are not pain avoidance people. They are pain conquering people. There are fun things to do and there are necessary things to do. Those whose path to power has come easily tend to avoid or postpone difficult decisions. They invent all manner of rationalized reasons but show me a person in a position of leadership who cannot make decisions readily or whose habit is to postpone making difficult ones as long as possible and I will show you a person who was given the position. They did not earn it.
- Coming to reign by virtue of pain prepares us to rule, govern, lead, and guide from a place of mercy and understanding. It makes us human, creates an approachable atmosphere, and prepares us to motivate rather than manipulate. You’re probably familiar with the old exercise and fitness mantra – no pain no gain. Well, it’s true in our field as well. You see, the pain which we experience as we are growing into leadership and influence spawns another mantra – no pain no reign. (Of course, I mean “reign” in the sense of sitting in a place of responsibility and power not mere privilege and esteem).
Even a brief examination of professional sports reveals manifold tragedies in the lives of young athletes whose sudden rise to fame and fortune brought upon them pressures, responsibilities, and unseen consequences. Lottery winners have much the same tragic result. If I may, let me encourage you that the path to the success you want…and deserve…may seem unfairly challenging, but it is not. The only leadership worth having, the only position worth occupying, the only privileges wholesomely enjoyed are those we’ve earned.