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Leadership Pain - Part 1

Your tolerance for pain is a major determining factor in your leadership lid. Have you heard that? It’s true. Pain, as part of our normal human life and in every situation, enables us to grow and develop. It’s been said that “Pain is inevitable, but misery is optional.” If we become victims of our pain, misery will set in. We cannot stop what happens to us, but we can certainly stop what happens in us.


Our natural neural reaction to physical pain is to try to stop it as soon as possible. However, with growing pains for entrepreneurs and executives, stopping the pain can have negative results. When the pain stops, the progress of growth stops. New experiences and situations facing a leader cause this kind of situation.


There are many ways growing pains can manifest themselves in a growing leader:

Becoming Tired: Applying energy in new ways sucks the life right out of you. Focus requires much energy reserve, and we end up draining it.


Stress and Pressure: Healthy pressure is what we apply to ourselves as we push ourselves to reach a desired goal. Stress comes from outside forces that have found a way to control us emotionally and mentally.


Criticism: The more you grow and the more you achieve, the more criticism you will attract. But critics eventually go away and move on. If you want productive pain, find trustworthy, wise people to give you accurate feedback in your best interest.


Fear: Fear creates emotional discomfort. When leaders crave emotional comfort, they tend to avoid emotionally charged discussions and miss the natural opportunity for learning and growth. It is almost impossible for leaders to make difficult decisions when they fear the emotional responses of others.


Failure: Fear and failure are closely related. When leaders fail, they are often reluctant to act, procrastinating and missing great opportunities. Effective leaders do not need every possible piece of information before moving forward. Small steps and little victories are key to forward progress.


There’s a psychological change proverb that rings true in all of life. “Change only happens when the pain of change is less than the pain of remaining the way I am. ”Sometimes we don’t make necessary changes because where we are just doesn’t hurt enough yet. Personal growth is often hindered due to our high tolerance for pain.


If you are on a hike, how long would you tolerate a little stone in your shoe? If you are hurt by someone, how long would you tolerate the anger, bitterness, resentment, and negative health impact associated with holding a grudge? Or how long would you tolerate an ineffective but charming person in a key position? Ouch. Right? Unfortunately, most of us will stop as soon as we feel the pain of the stone. But the other stuff? We can tolerate the pain for a very long time.


When pain tolerance is exposed, that in itself is painful. People who are committed to personal growth and success notice unproductive behavior and initiate change which improves their performance. It’s a powerful response. Influence and credibility increase as others observe real, sustained changes in behavior. It gets the stone out of the shoe. But opposition to change (personal growth) is more powerful until our pain pushes us to break through the wall of resistance.


Pain, as emotional or mental distress, according to leader Steve Laswell, is actually a gift designed to help us stop, take stock, and engage the process of growth. He says, “When the pain invites us to listen to the story and we search for truth, we then have a choice: Manage the pain– this often leads to greater ramifications or unintended consequences; or embrace the pain, which usually removes our resistance to change and leads to improved performance and enjoyment of life.” I have summarized some of his thoughts below that are helping me.


Where are you feeling pain today? What needs to change?


People aren’t just born with a higher pain tolerance. Pain tolerance is something that is built up over time, through years of experience. Your tolerance rises and falls depending on what’s happening in the rest of your life. At first, it’s difficult to see how pain can help us. But that’s just because we’re forgetting about all the ways we routinely use pain in our daily lives.


Think about the physical pain you experience the day after a hard workout. That’s a type of pain you create on your own, knowing that it will go away in a day or two.With sports, pain is often a source of pride. It symbolizes that we endured the struggle. You probably don’t leave the office at the end of the day physically exhausted and wake up sore the next morning. But that doesn’t mean the office environment doesn’t hold the potential for pain.


Take uncomfortable conversations, for example. There are always going to be tensions in a business. You believe the company should go one direction; they think it should go another. Or perhaps a project is behind schedule. You can smooth things over and hope it all works out. But of course, that only leads to more trouble down the road. In reality, the more uncomfortable conversations you have, the better off you are.


The more you’re able to tolerate and deal with painful experiences, the more chances you’ll have to experience life, push your boundaries, and open yourself up to new opportunities. By learning to deal with discomfort, you build tolerance for difficult situations. When you lock yourself in your comfort zone—never building your tolerance—you have fewer chances to widen your knowledge and experiences.


Well, friends, it’s normal to live your life trying to avoid pain. It’s much more socially acceptable to embrace happiness and approval as the goal for your life. But that’s not the path of leadership. I’m with you—I wish it were. There are moments that we get happiness and approval as leaders. However, the sooner we embrace the truth that leadership is hard, tough, and painful, the better prepared and equipped we will be.


Honestly, my pain comes from people. I hate being misunderstood. As I was growing, I was a people-pleaser, and this has been a great stretching point for me. It actually started when I was a basketball player in a very tough school. At Canton McKinley, the fans took their sport seriously and had no trouble letting you know how they felt about any mistake or perceived mistake you made…loudly and publicly. I learned to listen to the coach. That principle still works for me.


Here are four ways to develop better leadership through pain tolerance:


1. Embrace the pain. Henry Cloud, well-known psychologist, says negative situations will always be a reality for leaders but how you deal with those negative situations determines what type of leader you will be. Do you avoid these situations? Do you overreact and let them spoil your mood? Do you procrastinate over resolving them? Stop finding fault or causes and start finding solutions.


2. Stay focused on the outcome. The future positive outcome always outweighs the current temporary pain. The same way as visualizing yourself walking through the graduation line to receive your college degree will help you push yourself, visualizing your healthy company when you are able to make the right choice will help you push through.


3. Make a specific action plan. There’s power in writing something down, understanding what is involved, then seeing what needs to be done. State the issue, and then list the next two or three steps that you need to take to resolve it. Keep that plan visually in an area that will remind you to deal with it.


4. Aggressively attack your problem. Procrastination, fear, time, and worry are always your enemies. Don’t let them win. It doesn’t mean your approach is aggressive, but it means you get going on it NOW. Deal with it.

Pain is necessary for leaders to lead. Accept it, grow through it, and see yourself and your responsibilities thrive.

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