Leadership is Difficult

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 17, Issue No. 8a
December 1, 2018

By Dan Coughlin


“Life is difficult.”

Those are the three opening words in the book, The Road Less Traveled, by Scott Peck, which is one of the best-selling books of all time. I read this book back in the 1990s, and I still remember this opening line because it’s so direct and honest.

Peck then wrote this paragraph.

“This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see the truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

I feel the same way about leadership. Leadership truly is difficult. In this article I want to touch on three of the great challenges faced in trying to provide leadership, which I define as influencing how other people think so they make decisions that improve results in a sustainable way.

Once we accept that leadership is difficult, then it no longer matters that is difficult. We can see what we are dealing with, and we can carry on.

Leadership Challenge #1: You have to have wisdom to provide to others.

Leadership is not your label or title or level of authority. Having the biggest title in the room might allow you to make the final decision, but that doesn’t mean you have effectively influenced how other people think.

Knowledge does not make you a leader. Every person with an internet connection today has more knowledge right now than any great leader in history before the advent of Google.

Know-how is important. Knowing how to do a type of task or function is very important, but it doesn’t make you a leader. Know-how might make you a great performer or a great teacher, but it doesn’t make you a leader.

Wisdom is different. Knowledge is knowing something. Wisdom is understanding something. That understanding is the source of your perspective. Your perspective is what you have to offer to other people. Invest time in really working to understand people and situations, and then you will have something extraordinarily valuable to offer to them: your wisdom, which is the perspective you have earned over your lifetime.

Oftentimes, wisdom can only be gained by making mistakes. The more they hurt, the more you will learn. Don’t be ashamed of your mistakes. Learn from them. You will have more wisdom to offer to others. Of course, don’t think that making the same mistakes over and over again is going to help you have more wisdom. That just means you are not learning anything.

Leadership Challenge #2: You have to deliver your wisdom effectively.

It’s not enough to understand people and situations. You have to be able to deliver that wisdom in ways that other people can take it in and do something with it. There are many ways to deliver wisdom, and they are all difficult skills to master.

You can deliver wisdom by being an extraordinary listener, conversationalist, teacher, doer, writer, parent, child, sibling, relative, friend, boss, colleague, employee, customer, or supplier. There is no secret formula. What matters is your ability to convey your perspective to others in ways that they can take it in and consider it and be influenced to improve results in a sustainable way.

I encourage you to really think about how you can convey the wisdom, the perspective, you have earned over your lifetime. This takes time and intentional effort on your part to become really good at imparting your wisdom.

Leadership Challenge #3: People have to trust you.

Trust means that people are willing to listen to your perspective and consider it.

It takes a very long time to develop genuine trust from other people, and it can be ruined in just a few minutes. You develop trust from others by doing what you said you would do. You develop it by being there for other people in ways that they feel they gained value from being with you. You develop trust by doing those two things consistently over and over and over again.

You ruin trust when you do something that is contrary or seems contrary to what other people expect from you, or from what they expect is the right thing for you to do or say. This might only happen once or twice, but now you are no longer trusted by those people. Sad, but true. The only way they can trust you again is if they forgive you for what you’ve said or done, and give you another opportunity to be trusted. Then it’s up to you to earn their trust again.

Leadership requires extraordinary on-going discipline to act in a way that people can trust you over the long term.

When you make a mistake in hurting trust, learn from the mistake, pick yourself back up, and move forward again. You now have more wisdom to offer to those people that you will eventually build trust with in the future.