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Leading with

Dan's Insights and Inspirations for Empowered Leadership

The Better You Lead, The Harder It Gets. (Here's Why & What To Do About It.)

Have you ever dreamed of the day you "arrive"? By "arrive" I mean a day when leadership is suddenly easy. You have senior status and the influence that comes with it. You lead with more certainty and far less confusion. You've been at it for so long that your effort easily turns into results. I admit, I used to think that leadership would get progressively easier over time…until I learned this truth:  

"For Authentic Leaders, the higher you get, the harder you’ll have to work. The more influence you gain, the more you have to give of yourself."

That's shocking, but true. Secretly, most of us think that the reward for great leadership, is an easier workload. You help your company get better, you gain more clients and customers, or you get promoted, and suddenly you're living the good life.

But the reality is, if you care about people, the reward for solving big problems is the chance to solve bigger problems. The more responsibility you get, the more pressure and complexity you have to manage. The stakes are higher, and the path is less clear. If you're an Authentic Leader, actively serving and leading people, making an impact in the world, it never gets easy. In fact, it gets progressively harder.

In my book Authentic Leadership, I explain how the best leaders handle that reality. In essence, these leaders lead with a mindset of surrender. A mindset of surrender means you have surrendered the dream of an easy, comfortable life. You've come to terms with the pain and loss that might be associated with leadership. Friends might turn on you. You might lose money. You might make embarrassing mistakes. People might talk about you. (People will definitely talk about you!) If you're surrendered, you’ve calculated the price of leadership and have chosen to pay the cost, because the benefit far outweighs any challenge you might face. When you lead from a mindset of surrender, you have nothing to lose. 

Polar Bear Swimming

I understood the value of surrender when I went polar bear swimming for the first time. When I was nine, my parents sent me to Boys Camp, a week long, summer camp for hundreds of elementary boys. I had never been away from home for so long, and I had no clue what to expect. Between the new friends, new freedom, and new setting, Boys Camp turned out to be an absolute thrill! The best part of the week came during polar bear swimming. On the last day of camp, we woke up at six o’clock in the morning and headed to the pond. It was huge and freezing! That’s the polar bear part. We got up in the dark to dare ourselves to swim in freezing cold water. No need to call child services. We enjoyed it.

As you can imagine, we had gotten to know each other through the week. By now we were comrades, taunting each other in order to get someone else to jump in first. In a bunch, we slowly walked into the pond. Toes. Then ankles. Then knees, then waist. We all wanted to swim, but no one was quite ready to totally surrender to the water. It took forever, and it was excruciating. 

Then, suddenly one boy just surrendered to the water. He started running, high stepping toward the deep water, and dove in while the rest of us stared. 

As we watched him decide and act, I instantly knew he was smarter and braver than me. While his body was underwater adjusting to the temperature, those of us above water were still freezing and hoping the pain would slowly go away. 

Seconds later, we all jumped in after him.

In this case, surrendering meant accepting the reality of the situation. As a leader, if you’ve already surrendered to the idea that your work will be regularly hard and painful, you can lead with far more courage.

Surrender All Pretense 

Too many leaders lack the courage to lead, because they haven't surrendered to the reality of leadership. Filled with anxiety and insecurity, they fearfully inch toward decisions that should be made decisively. They wring their hands over the consequences of one choice versus another. They fret over what others might think, or the risks they might take. Authentic Leaders lead with nothing to lose. That means they surrender any pretense that they can become an effective leader without some pain and hard decisions.

Like polar bear swimming, if you’ve already surrendered to the idea that some momentary pain will be involved, then you can jump in and lead with far more courage.