December 12, 2018

Leadership and the Crucible of Struggle

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. — Frederick Douglass

A leaders mental is forged in the crucible of struggle.

Without struggle, a leader is not a true leader.

Without struggle, there is no need for leadership

Without struggle, our leadership muscles become weak and atrophied.

Most of us see struggle as something to be avoided, side stepped, delayed for another day, pawned off on others or simply the point at which to give up.

That’s the wrong way to thing about it.

Every leader, at every level of an organization, should embrace struggle since that’s the reason why leaders are needed in the first place.

Struggle Is The Path to Wisdom and Growth

Our struggles are gifts. They teach us a tremendous amount about ourselves, others and the world we live in. Struggle makes victory that much sweeter, that much better and that much more fulfilling.

Wisdom is the ultimate result of the struggles we face. There really is no book, class or lecture one can attend to learn the true wisdom that struggling through challenges imparts upon us.

Growth only occurs when we push our frontiers and struggle against our urges to stay in our comfort zone. Comfort is the enemy of growth because it puts us in the mindset that this is it, I have arrived and I don’t want to change.

Struggle upsets that comfort zone and makes us stretch farther than we think we can.

Don’t Give Up. Don’t Give In

Wisdom and growth come through struggling past our limits. By pushing that extra little bit, you push past your comfort zone and start to expand into the unknown. This is the place where you can’t give up or give in to your primal urge to revert back to a safe and comfortable place.

As I have talked about before, endurance athletes struggle both physically and mentally to finish a race when their bodies and minds are telling them to quit. They constantly fear a Did Not Finish (DNF) and will struggle through a tremendous amount of pain to make it past the finish line.

All leaders need to continue their struggle to cross their own finish lines. That’s how your mental is forged. That’s how you get the confidence to push the envelope. That’s how you motivate your supporters to continue to support you even when they don’t want to move another step.

As a leader, you job is to out endure the struggles you and your supporters face.

Methods to Overcome Your Struggles

Leaders at all levels and in all organizations will struggle to find their way. Most with breakdown under the stress and pressure to perform when all seems futile.

You need to act different.

Breaking through your struggles is about accepting the fact that struggle is going to be a constant — just like change. Overcoming struggle is more about your attitude than your aptitude.

Consider these simple ways to embrace, conquer and grow from your leadership struggles.


  • Look for the opportunity: There is opportunity in every setback, stumble or failure. Seize these opportunities by being open to them and not being negative.

  • Make it about the situation: Lots of leaders take things personal. Don’t. Always make it about the situation and never think about it as a personal attack — even when people are attacking you.

  • Chop the wood in front of you: Too often, leaders want to work or think about longer term, sexy projects that are exciting instead of getting the tasks that need to get done now. Focus on the now while still thinking about the future.

  • Recruit others to help: There is no shame in asking for help. In fact, it’s one of the signs of a confident leader.

  • Be a solver not a complainer: We can all complain about a situation but it’s the rare person that solves the problem instead of complaining about it.

  • Embrace the uncertainty: Life is full of uncertainty. Nothing is guaranteed. Embrace that. When something zigs, you zag. When a situation changes, adapt and overcome — don’t get stuck.

  • Fear inaction not failure: The worst thing a leader can do is not act. Even if the action is not perfect, you have to do something. By doing something, you get the momentum going. You also create opportunities that would not be available if you sat around and did nothing.

Embrace Your Struggles

Struggle is good for a leader. It’s the crucible of struggle that forms a leaders mental. Without struggle, leaders would have nothing to champion or lead.

When dealing with your struggles, be it internal or external, you should always remember that what you are going through is an opportunity to grow and thrive as a leader. Realize that and every struggle will be an opportunity for growth.