Managing the Leadership Struggle

I don’t know about you, but I’m missing the pre-pandemic days. Lately, so many of us seem to be struggling. We’re worried about health and safety, job security, childcare, homeschooling, family issues and work-life balance. And those among us managing other people may also be in the middle of a very real leadership struggle. Here are a few thoughts on how to manage when it all seems uphill.

How to Manage the Leadership Struggle

I’ve been thinking about a north Georgia trout fishing excursion I took with my daughter, Sarah, several years ago. During our trip, we found ourselves at the base of Brasstown Bald Mountain, reportedly the highest peak in the state of Georgia.

From the base to the summit was a near vertical half mile trek. With some hesitancy, we decided to tackle this adventure. In no time, the adventure became an exhausting challenge. The climb was tough, unrelenting and we both tired quickly.

1. In the Leadership Struggle… Stop & Catch Your Breath

Several times during our ascension, we just had to stop and catch our breath. We wondered out loud if this had been such a great idea after all. But once sufficiently rested, re-oxygenated and refocused, we would rise and struggle on.

From a business perspective, I’m finding it’s helpful — even needful — to stop and catch my breath frequently. In the midst of leadership struggles spawned by COVID-19, pausing to refocus on the end goal helps with my commitment to the necessary, sometimes mundane, tasks at hand.

Back to my trip with Sarah.

After more than 30 long, hard minutes of hiking, we emerged from the mountain’s forested canopy with the summit in sight.

And once there — OH, MY — the view was absolutely breathtaking! Before us lay a 360-degree panoramic view of picturesque mountains and valleys, lakes and streams, towns and farms.

And there we stood, silently soaking up the extraordinary view.

Sarah spoke first.

“Dad, it’s just beautiful,” she marveled, while still huffing and puffing slightly.

2. In the Leadership Struggle… Don’t Ignore the Small Things

For some reason, at that very moment, inspiration struck.

“Sarah, what does this climb teach us?” I asked.

Sarah paused, looked at me and then offered tentatively, “That it’s beautiful at the top?”

“I don’t think so,” I countered.

“Oh, I certainly agree with you, it IS beautiful. But not just at the top — it was beautiful all the way TO the top. Sarah, on our way up here we walked past many of the things we’re admiring now.

“It’s just that we didn’t notice or appreciate the beauty because we were struggling — struggling with the task, struggling to reach our goal, struggling to get to the top. And we ended up ignoring the beauty that was all around us. And it was there all the time.”

So from a leader’s perspective, have you been ignoring the small things? Maybe it’s an employee sincerely working to get better, who just isn’t quite there yet. Or perhaps members of your team have taken the initiative to ratchet up innovation and problem solving. Have you acknowledged their efforts? Could it be your staff have volunteered to take on extra projects or to work uncovered shifts for fellow employees isolating or out sick? Have you overlooked their actions?

Leaders find a lot of ways to make it to the top. Here are a couple ideas you might want to consider.

I’m sure Sarah was thankful that my mountain top epiphany was brief. But on our leisurely stroll back down the mountain, we were decidedly more observant — and hopefully, more appreciative — than before.

3. In the Leadership Struggle… Be All There

Sometime after that mountain top experience, I remember hearing Chuck Swindoll, a Christian pastor, author and educator remind his audience, “Wherever you are — be all there.”

That simple piece of advice resonated with me then — and still does. If you’re in the midst of a leadership struggle, maybe it’s a timely lesson for you, too.

I’m betting this is the reality of your current situation. You’re in a leadership role or position — or you plan to be. But the mountain before you is daunting, intimidating — maybe even disheartening.

To reach the top of that formidable mountain, you must move intentionally and purposely — forward and upward. And that can be a struggle. You know it’s true. No one has to convince you otherwise.

As exhausting, frustrating and occasionally discouraging as the leadership struggle can be, if you look around occasionally you’ll see that you’re making progress. Probably those you lead are also making progress. And that the summit — the resolution of your leadership struggle — is closer than it’s ever been.

So don’t quit — you’re not there yet.

  1. Stop and catch your breath.
  2. Pause and acknowledge the victories along the way.
  3. Refocus your commitment and “be all there.”

Keep reaching, keep learning, keep climbing. And soon enough you’ll see that your effort has been worthwhile. And the view IS beautiful from the top!

If your people need inspiration and leadership guidance, let’s talk about some ways to help them.

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Phillip Van Hooser

Phillip Van Hooser, CSP, CPAE is committed to helping organizations transform their business outcomes by building engaged employee relationships. He is an award-winning keynote speaker and author on leadership, service and communication. His popular book, “Willie's Way: 6 Secrets for Wooing, Wowing and Winning Customers and Their Loyalty” recently hit #1 in Customer Relations on the Kindle store. Connect with Phil on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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