Why Pain Matters in Leadership

As leaders, we face tough situations every day.

We’re asked to make tough decisions, have tough conversations, take on tough workloads, inspire tough people and achieve tough goals. There are emotionally-charged conversations to hold. Deadlines are tight and the pressure is on.

In each and every one of these situations, taking action involves discomfort — and pain. Giving a coworker feedback that she’d rather not hear? This will be painful. So will receiving feedback that brings to light areas where you, too, need to make improvements. Or taking a stand on an unpopular position because you believe, fundamentally, that it’s the right thing to do.

But not all leaders are capable of doing the tough stuff. What separates a good manager from an exceptional leader is the willingness to move to action by facing any challenge rather than avoid it, delegate it or run from it.

This is why pain — and the courage required to accept pain as part of the process of fully engaging — is crucial to leadership.

The best leaders can:

●     Recognize when they are feeling pain, or anticipate times when they might.

●     Navigate and overcome the fear of pain.

●     Resist the temptation to avoid pain by either avoiding the situations that provoke it, or reacting in a way that’s defensive or insecure.

●     Move thoughtfully to action rather than reacting when faced with tough situations or people.

The good news — as we lay out in our book THE COURAGEOUS LEADER — is that we all have the power to tap into the courage this requires.

What about you? What particular situations, conversations or challenges do you tend to avoid as a leader in order to shield yourself from pain?

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