Guest post by Steven Snyder
Leadership is often a struggle. Yet we can be brainwashed by western culture into thinking that struggle is inherently bad, a stigma that gets in the way when we find ourselves facing difficult or challenging times. Fears take over, leaving us embarrassed or ashamed, or even denying that a problem exists in the first place.
Something powerful happens when we defy cultural stereotypes and face struggle head on, embracing it as an art to be mastered. New possibilities emerge, beginning with the awareness that our difficulties are actually a gateway to greater growth and learning.
From that moment of awareness comes positive action. We let go of old dysfunctional habits and healthier patterns emerge, more adaptive and aligned with our core purpose, values and vision.
Here are five ways to get started down this path:
- Adopt a growth mindset. My friend and former Microsoft CFO Frank Gaudette (now deceased) used to say: “I reserve the right to wake up smarter every day.” When facing a new challenge, be honest with yourself about what new skills you need. Take the time to build them.
- Center your mind, body and spirit. Like the foundation under a building, you need a set of daily and weekly practices to anchor and steady you through turbulence and upheaval. Find the mix that works for you, whether it is exercise, prayer, journaling, being with nature, or meditation. Despite how busy you are, take the time to eat a healthy diet and get enough sleep. The more you nourish your body, the better it will work for you.
- Build your support community. You can’t do it alone. You need people to help and guide you, and give you feedback when you veer off course. Your support team can include your family, friends, peers, coaches, mentors, and, if you are lucky, your boss. Consider starting a True North Group to create an ongoing support system.
- Overcome your blind spots. We all have blind spots that can get us into trouble if we are not careful. A common one—I call it the Conflict Blind Spot—comes in the midst of intense conflict. Every interaction is interpreted through a distorted lens, further justifying that we are in the right and others are wrong. As conflict escalates it can undermine the very organizational mission we intend to serve. At the core of the Conflict Blind Spot lies fear or hurt; fear of an unknown or uncertain future, or hurt stemming from some past, even unrelated, trauma. By releasing these negative emotions you clear space for healing, self-forgiveness and compassion, opening new avenues to seek common ground.
- Recommit, pivot, or leap. During any struggle episode you ultimately face a choice. Do you recommit to previous goals, albeit with renewed vigor, a new attitude and newly acquired skills? Or do you pivot, slightly altering course, based on new understanding and awareness? Or is a more major step required—a bold leap into uncharted territory? The risks vary, as do the rewards. To choose the best path for you, search inward and ask yourself: which path is most consistent with your personal vision or mission statement? If you haven’t written one down yet, now may be good time to start.
All leaders face adversity. Exceptional leaders thrive in it. As you move down the path toward struggle mastery, your leadership capability will improve and your journey will become more gratifying and fulfilling. Who knows? You may discover that today’s difficulties and challenges ultimately are revealed as gifts in disguise.
Steven Snyder’s new book Leadership and the Art of Struggle has been called the “must read leadership book of the year.” Snyder was an early leader at Microsoft where he worked closely with Bill Gates. He was also CEO of publicly traded Net Perceptions. Snyder holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Minnesota. You can contact him at: email@example.com or visit snyderleadership.com.
Personal note from Jesse: This week we are celebrating the official launch of Leadership and the Art of Struggle, one of this year’s most important leadership books. It’s a must-read, not only for leaders, but for all of us! This insightful and practical book will guide you on a journey we all must take – learning how to navigate this complex world from a position of strength, not from a survival mentality. Keep your copy close at hand as you will refer to it often!
Great points about adversity. Most of us do everything we can to avoid it instead of considering it part of the normal way of life. I thought your point about blind spots was especially interesting. Looking forward to reading your book and learning more.
Thanks, John. Happy reading!
Spot on! We may not be able to choose what happens to us but we can choose our attitude. The versatility to adapt and thrive in all kinds of environments is the hallmark of a great leader.
Thanks Jake. I agree with you. Our attitude can make a big difference in the ultimate outcome, as well as our own enjoyment of the process.
Interesting perspective, Steven. I’m a retired CEO and am leading a workshop on retirement this semester. Many of your points apply to those of us who have let go of the structure of the workplace, who are struggling to find a new identity, who find old conflicts still in the way, and who absolutely need to make time for centering. Thank you.
Thanks Betsy. Transitions are always hard, especially the type you are describing. When we shed old, outdated assumptions, we make space for new ideas that are better suited to our current realities and role.
I recommend the way Barry Johnson and Polarity Partners use polarity mapping to illuminate blind spots related to opposite views since often our blind spots reflect an accurate but incomplete view. Enjoyed your post and all the good reminders it contained.
Thanks Fay. Polarity mapping is a very powerful technique, and can reveal some interesting insights.
I propose a slightly different take in the book, which I call Tension Maps. Episodes of Leadership Struggle can be mapped into four tension points, which can be represented graphically as a Tension Map. An understanding of these tension points, as well as the overall tension map, can help a leader navigate through challenging situations.
Steven, congratulations! I applaud your wonder, excitement, humility, learning and how you have shared your knowledge and your growth with us. Thanks for all your good work.
Thanks for your kind words, Barbara!
Great post! Adversity and struggle are just natural parts of life. No matter what position you hold or what career choice you make, you will face struggle in one form or another at some point in your life. That being said, I really like the points you brought out for overcoming struggle. I think it is also important to decide how important something is from the very beginning. Decide how determined you will be from the very beginning so that you know how hard you will work to accomplish your goal. If you decide to be completely determined to a cause, you will not waver when you face adversity. On the other hand, if you are not as determined, you may be willing to change your course when adversity comes.
When I was a high school wrestler I had a defining moment when I had to decide how committed I would be. I could either put forth mediocre effort and be a mediocre wrestler or I could give it all my effort and know that I did my best. I decided to work as hard as I could and put forth all my effort. That decision changed the rest of my wrestling career and had an impact on the person I am today.
Thanks for the great thought-provoking post.
Thanks for your post, Brandon. I completely agree with you, commitment is key. If you are not committed then you won’t do your best.
On the other hand, sometimes we commit ourselves totally, and things still don’t work out the way we want them to. At these times, the simple knowledge that we’ve tried our best gives us solace as we move on to the next challenge. We can always grow and learn the next time we face a similar challenge.
Thanks for your response Steven. I’ll look forward to reading more about tension maps when I read your new book.