The longer I lead, the more I get used to the paradox of leadership. Some love how you lead. Some don’t. Many aren’t passionate one way or the other. What I have noticed is that the longer you lead, the more important a game plan for handling pain becomes. Not a popular topic but a really important one.
Leadership is full of making decisions. Many welcome them. Some disagree and debate them. Others end in outright hostility, and that is communicated back to you because of your leadership role. Sometimes you are the focus because you are the leader. Sometimes you are the focus because you have genuinely messed up. Sometimes you’re the focus for no good reason in particular. Either way the more you say in leadership and the more you mature in leadership, the more you will face the problem and paradox of pain.
My worldview about people is that they are designed to be extraordinarily fruitful and effective. Period. We are designed to dream, ask why not, take risks, launch new ventures and make a splash. (I’ve noticed that not everyone believes that though.) Just small children who haven’t learnt they can’t!
Here’s a way to understand where pain comes from, how people react to it and what you can do about it.
Leadership pain comes from two main sources.
From yourself – as in something you do or something that exists in you.
From others – the behaviour of others impacts on you directly. Words they say, things that are written, behaviours that negatively affect you (and those close to you.)
You respond in one of the two main ways (and varying expressions of each). You either blame or consider the responsibility of solving the matter to be external to yourself or you take full responsibility for the circumstances even if you didn’t create them and even more if you did.
And lets face it. When it hurts, it hurts. Leadership pain is a dark side of life that is delicate and difficult to discuss. Yet it seems ever present, not going away, and the fruit of unaddressed pain (bitterness) is the number one reason people don’t make it. When the pain is too great or the coping mechanism too insufficient the outcomes can be catastrophic for you, your marriage, your family and the people you lead.
Leadership Pain | Where it comes from | How you deal with
How is this experienced in real life?
Firstly the two big outcomes in experiencing leadership pain, are bitterness or effectiveness. If you allow yourself and others to spend too much time blaming others you will inevitably slip back into an existence whereby anything that happens to you good or bad is the result of external sources.
- When it’s bad, you blame.
- When you blame, the circumstances don’t improve.
- When circumstances and relationships don’t improve, it’s easier to end up bitter than better.
Alternatively you can take responsibility for how you respond to the circumstances and make the most helpful, most resourceful, most positive choices you can. This approach will continue to keep you on the side of effectiveness. It’s not a perfect world, of course; there are bumps along the road. However, the circle choice is the path you choose to walk down. The path of bitterness or the path of effectiveness, and it’s entirely your choice!
When the pain comes from others, and you blame you, take the role of a victim. Your script is one of powerlessness and defeat. Many of us have been there. Some of us are still there. It may be as a result of decisions that others have made that impact you, and affected you negatively. It may be a deliberate attempt to bring you down. Whatever the reason when someone does something that knocks you sideways, you immediately give the power to fix the issue back to them.
Be aware of what you say, the story you believe and the self-talk you’re hearing. This is a key indicator to you of the script you are following. Put the emergency brakes on when you hear yourself responding in that way and look for the one thing you can do that would make your circumstance better. Your best strategy is to stop, immediately and get help. Be it a friend, a mentor, a counsellor. Whatever and whoever you need to reach out for this.
When the pain comes from you and you blame you, you position yourself as the martyr. You can slip dangerously into a place of self-righteousness. Sentences that begin with “I this” and “I that” and “Me this” and “Me that” are clear indicators that you are choosing the pathway of the self-righteous matter. The truth about being a martyr is that it’s attractive to nobody. Your script is self-absorbed, self-focused and tends to be on the whining side of life. It tires people out very quickly.
When the pain comes from others, and you respond responsibly, you set yourself up for wholeness, to learn, and continue more wisely into the future. One of the more challenging leadership experiences to come to terms with is when the behaviour of others impacts you negatively. I found it easier to blame, easier to respond with anger and frustration, or both. Feeling like something unhelpful has happened and it has little or nothing to do with you is the perfect fuel for the self-righteous martyr. Avoid that choice at all costs.
People do unhelpful things for many different reasons. You have done it. I have done it, and it impacts us all in a number of negative ways. The key to this is creating the space to make sure you proactively chose what response you want to have. The best one is the one that takes responsibility for what you can influence and let go of the things you can’t.
When the pain comes from within, and you respond responsibly, you position yourself for significant private (and then public) victories. Perhaps challenges that people never hear about, never know about, and never even care about. These private, hard fought personal victories could well be the stepping-stones of significant public victories into your future.
As soon as you become aware of any internal disturbance you take immediate and full responsibility for how you experience the issue and what you do about it.
Wherever you have located yourself these five steps will help:
Take full responsibility for your immediate response.
Personal responsibility is the key to being in charge of how you experience your future, whatever happens to you. Sometimes the next step after it goes wrong, and is more important than the actual thing that happened. Nothing will change in you or for you until you chose to be fully responsible for all your thoughts, emotions and behaviours. It might not be your fault, but it’s due to your responsibility.
Identify the source and impact of the pain.
The old adage, “Truth Hurts” seems to be true. At least to me. If something happens and I find myself feeling any internal pain at all, it’s usually telling me that there is a tender spot that needs healing. Like bumping a day, old bruise, the pain can usually alert you to the fact that while you’re on the mend, you are not yet healed and whole. It’s a journey.
When you can identify the place of pain you can take responsible and focus action to make it right.
Do not write or say anything reactive and defensive.
Once said, once written, once shared it can never be taken back. Avoid conversations and arguments over email at all costs. Email more often makes things worse when trying to resolve because the reader puts the tone and emphasis on the words, not the writer. Use email to make a face-to-face appointment that is all.
We see the world as we are and sadly most of the time when this occurs and no face-to-face meeting has taken place, the level of confusion about the real issues and the genuine place of resolution is low. Being reactive and defensive in writing serves no good purpose.
Get the right amount of help in the right amount of time.
I once heard a speaker say “I got stuff! You got stuff! We all got stuff! That’s so true. One of the most helpful things to remind yourself of as a leader is that we work with good people whose intentions are good and are doing the best they can.
When you reach skill limits get a coach. When you reach character limits, get a mentor. When you reach personal challenges of any kind, reach out to qualified professionals who can help you make sense of YOU and chose the most resourceful pathway forward. Whatever the cost, the cost of not doing it is greater.
Consistently choose to be responsible for your future.
In a similar echo to point one, the bottom line is that people are responsible for themselves. This doesn’t mean you (and any other leader for that matter) can do whatever they please and let others sort it out. It means that whatever happens responsibility is the best way forward.
When you choose to stay committed to learning the lessons from the pain and making the right changes at the right time, you continue to serve your future. That’s a true gift. Cherish it. Pain is an inevitability. Lessons are optional. Growth is a choice. Choose to do leadership pain so well it serves your effectiveness.
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