3 Ways Leaders Handle the Pain of Leadership

LeadershipIn his new book, Leadership Pain, Dr. Sam Chand says, “There is no growth without change, no change without loss, and no loss without pain. Bottom line: if you’re not hurting, you’re not leading.

Ouch!  (No pun intended.)  But that is just the opposite of what most people have been taught about leadership and all its accompanying power, glory, fame, and riches.

The truth is … leadership and pain go hand in hand.  And Dr. Chand knows better than most people.  He started as a janitor at a southern college and ended up being the President of that same college some time later.

Indeed, his story and his success as a leader so inspired me that I asked him if he would spend 15 minutes with me and all of you sharing his leadership secrets.  He graciously agreed.  When you order a copy of my new book, The Payoff Principle: Discover the 3 Secrets for Getting What You Want Out of Life and Work, you’ll also get a free audio copy of Dr. Chand’s interview as well as my interviews with another 11 superstars in the world of business and leadership.

In the last few issues of my Tuesday Tip, I’ve given you several characteristics of an effective leader.  There are three more characteristics in my list of ten.  And they just happen to fit in with Dr. Chand’s analysis of leadership and pain.  If you will follow these final three characteristics, you will have the staying power you need as a leader, despite the pain.


8.  A leader builds relationships.

That doesn’t mean that she has to be buddies with everyone on the team or in the organization.  That may not even be possible, let alone wise.  But you can and should build strong, positive, respectful, cooperative relationships with everyone possible.  After all, as Tom Coleman, a distinguished warrant officer for the National Guard, says, “Success is utilizing and sharing your experiences to assist others in achieving their goals.

When Ed Caldwell, the Vice President of Protective Life, hired me to speak to his organization, he stressed this 8th point when I asked what accounted for his significant accomplishments over the years.  He said, “I have been blessed with four mentors and bosses over the last 30 years who took the time to build a relationship with me, who gave me candid feedback on the differences between leadership and management, and provided specific guidance at key points in my career.  Those relationships created what I consider to be the real turning points in my personal and professional development.

In other words, there’s more to leadership than achieving a goal or getting a job done.  It’s done best in the context of strong, positive relationships.  I stress that in my new program called 4C Leadership: Communication, Cooperation, Commitment, and Change.  You can get more information, contact me about this program, or even download an outline by clicking here.


9.  A leader celebrates.

A leader doesn’t wait for the sale-of-a-lifetime or a miraculous business turnaround before he celebrates with the team. He knows that little things count.  In fact, little celebrations can make a big difference.

As psychologist  Dr. Terry Paulson points out, “When people are asked to consider what works, too many look for the big things — those things that get measured and reported.  But many times, it is the consistent little things leaders do that mean the most to their teams.

And the MOST important time to celebrate might be when you LEAST feel like it.  That’s what Jill Blashack Strahan had to learn as the President of Tastefully Simple.  As she writes,

“We were five years old and we’d just moved into our brand-new headquarters, one mile out of town, set on twenty-two acres, next to beautiful woods and wetlands.

Accordingly, we’d invited all thirty of our team members to a little celebration at 9:20 a.m.  As a gift, I’d purchased Tastefully Simple baseball caps for everyone.

So there we all were, the first day in our new work areas, in our brand-new building. But the mood was anything but celebratory. I mean, think about it. You’re in a new space.  All your belongings have been moved over the weekend.  You can’t find your stapler or your favorite pen.  You don’t know how to use your new phone and your files are in a cardboard box sitting on the floor. Everyone was just a little tense.

At nine o’clock, I thought, ‘What was I thinking? Am I out of my mind? We can’t do this celebration. It’s our first day in the new building and everyone’s stressed! Maybe we should do it tomorrow.”

After a few more rants, I remembered what Andy Longclaw says in the book Gung Ho. Recognition must be TRUETimely, Responsive, Unconditional and Enthusiastic. We can’t wait. We need to have the celebration now.

So at 9:20, I paged everyone in the building to join us outside by the warehouse loading docks. It was a beautiful June day, warm and sunny, with a perfectly clear blue sky. I gave a little speech about June being the season of graduation, and like high school graduates, this new building was indicative of moving into a new phase of our lives.

We passed out the baseball caps, and in true graduation tradition,  we all cheered and threw our hats into the air while we sprayed everyone with Silly String. Afterwards, we went into our break room and had muffins and coffee. The whole celebration took less than half an hour.

But what do you suppose the mood was like at Tastefully Simple after we all got back to our work stations? The tension was ‘Poof, gone.

Here’s what I learned.  When we’re all stressed out, that’s when we need to take the time to celebrate what’s right with the world.

When I least feel like celebrating is when I most need it.



10.  A leader exhibits calmness in rough waters.

When the Iron Curtain fell, when the Cold War was over, the country of Czechoslovakia ceased to exist.  The new country of the Czech Republic took root in the midst of turmoil.  But their first president, Vaclav Havel, knew he had to be a steadying force.  He gave the people a new-found hope for their fledgling democracy as he said, “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.

If you’re like most organizations these days, you’re experiencing your share of rough waters.  Don’t forget Reinhold Niebuhr’s timeless advice:  “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  It still works.

Also, remember the advice of Larry Blakely, a Process and Improvement Director at Ernst and Young.  As he says in the signature line of his emails, “When you’re up to your eyeballs in alligators, it’s hard to remember you’re not there to drain the swamp.”  You’re there to be a calming influence in the midst of the storms.

You weren’t born a good leader.  But you can learn to be a good leader.  And a “good” leader exhibits these ten behaviors.  Now the ball is in your court to use these behaviors.