How a leader handles pain will tell you a lot about them. A key quality of a good leader is the ability to differentiate needs and model leadership skills which empower growth.
When leaders fall from grace, it is important to understand why. Just the nature of any “leadership position” elevates the leader above their “followers,” i.e., those looking to them for guidance, direction, and decision making. The occupational hazard with this perception shift is an insulation that creates a distinct separation and chasm between leaders and followers. This chasm is a reality that is a double edged sword:
We want our leaders to be people we look up to and aspire to be. Models of character in integrity, ethics, values; and leading with courage and a selfless heart. We laud and commend our leaders for these things…
We are disappointed when the humanity of our ‘less-than-perfect’ leaders shows up. They make mistakes, violate ethics or laws, keep secrets, break trust…
We crucify, malign, and slander our leaders for these things…
I believe it’s time we put down the double edged sword. Certainly a leaders “worst day” does not contradict the skills and abilities that empowered them for the “good” we were attracted to follow in the first place. Within leaders, we see ourselves…that’s why we follow certain leaders over others.
Dear leader, are you hurt or injured?
For any successful athlete, learning to differentiate between being “hurt” and an “injury” is a key indicator and self-management skill to function at peak performance.
An injury is something that impairs or prohibits performance. It’s physically not possible.
Being hurt may distract or temporarily limit performance, but can be leveraged and adapted from for performance growth.
Think about any sort of weight training. When you lift a weight repetitively, you create tiny tears in the muscle fiber. If it didn’t hurt you would be able to do unlimited reps and sets. As these tears heal, they grow stronger, and bigger, from what they were previously. The only way muscles grow is to be repaired with rest and proper nutrition.
Both hurt and injury, are initially indicated by pain… appropriately assessing and differentiating whether you are hurt or injured is key to perform at your best and be successful.
The recovery process from injury is painful, it hurts. Embracing that pain as a teaching and growing tool creates a mindset full of motivation and mental toughness. Just ask any physical therapist.
At the same time, if you don’t pay attention to what hurts, you will create an injury. Runners are notorious for this, (sorry I HATE running, the most uncomfortable activity on the planet for me…). There is a delicate balance between embracing and pushing through pain, for the sake of growth; … and ignorance or denial of pain that then becomes an injury.
Listening to the pain
Indicators of a leader who is hurt could be: decreased communication, increased procrastination in decision making, frustration, withdrawal from personal relationships, aloof or coldness with subordinates (beyond what’s been ‘normal’), time mis-management, overloaded schedules.
I’m sure there are more, but you get the picture. These are all indicators of behaviors or skills that become habits not contributing to successful performance.
Indicators of a leader who is injured could be: Any sort of alcohol or drug abuse (or dependence) current issue; violation of company policies or ethics; breaking laws; lying in personal relationships; chronic depression… Injuries tend to be major behaviors or events that disrupt from the trajectory, goal, or expectation of what we’ve defined as success.
Author Samuel R. Chand in his book Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth states, “Reluctance to face pain is your greatest limitation. There is no growth without change, no change without loss, and no loss without pain. Bottom line: if you’re not hurting, you’re not leading.”
The double edged sword
The good news is that some of the most effective and revered leaders have experienced failure and pain; both from injury and hurt. They have used the pain to fuel learning and growth opportunities not only improve, but succeed at a high level, because of their mindset and positive choices they made to recover.
As you do a self assessment here, a couple things: 1). be ruthlessly honest with yourself. Denial can be a great cognitive mask that prevents you from growing. 2). Take action on what you discover. 3). Reach out for support. The best athletes rely on trainers to assist and push them to grow. Do not walk alone.
If you’re hurt, recognize that pain as a symptom of potential growth (or potential injury). Never “push through” something unless you are 100% confident you are headed in the right direction.
If you’re injured, … broken legs don’t heal without traction. Sometimes a season on the sideline is necessary so you can recover, and come back stronger and more effective than you were previously. If you need direction what type of support to reach out for, let me know, I’d be glad to assist in coaching you where to look.