Monday, I wrote about my recent trip to Africa. As I continue to reflect on that experience, I’m reminded of something I often forget. Some men and women have extremely hard leadership assignments. You may be one of those leaders.
I saw huge leadership challenges this last week in Africa, but I’ve also seen them in Asia, Eastern Europe, Central America and all around the world. Hard leadership assignments are everywhere… America too.
What constitutes a hard leadership assignment? I believe every leadership challenge can be placed on a continuum from mildly annoying to virtually impossible. The contributing factors can include everything from an unpopular vision to insufficient resources to an unsolvable problem. The leadership challenges I want to consider today are the ones on the end of the scale – big challenges, hard challenges – starvation, poverty, HIV/Aids, infant mortality and the like.
Even when dealing with issues of this magnitude, some leaders still manage to excel. How do they make a difference when the circumstances and the odds are stacked against them? I think there are at least three factors I saw again last week that appear over and over again when the best leaders are faced with a supremely difficult leadership challenge.
1. Their calling is clear. Why do you lead? If you and I lead for the perks, the type challenges I’m describing will send us looking for another opportunity. If you’re leading because you sense a personal calling to do what you do, the odds are less significant to you. You lead where you are, because it is where you believe you are supposed to lead. If you’re a person of faith, you might say you have a divine calling. If not, but you still sense what I’m describing, you might say you were born for this assignment. In either case, that would qualify as a calling to me. That’s the anchor leaders need when faced with hard leadership assignments.
2. Their core values are clear. Why do you do what you do? My premise is we do what we do because of what we believe. That’s actually my working definition for core values – the beliefs that drive your behavior. When leadership gets hard, not only does our calling come into play, but what we believe matters more than we may have previously considered. Have you invested the time to articulate your core values? John Maxwell wrote about this in Today Matters. I highly recommend you think deeply about what you believe before the storms arise. You’ll need your core values if you find yourself in a hard leadership assignment. You may also be surprised how much they can serve you in less stressful, day-to-day leadership challenges.
3. Their vision is clear. If you believe vision creates passion as I do, you can see why this is such a critical factor when you see a leader who is able to thrive under extreme pressure. They would tell you, as they’ve told me, they have no choice but to stay the course – their vision compels them. They see a preferred future so clearly, their current reality is untenable.
If you and I find ourselves facing a hard leadership challenge, our calling, personal core values, and our vision will be called upon to help us stay in the game. It’s hard to say which is most important. My belief is the harder the challenge, the more we’ll need all three.
To all of you who find yourself facing the type of leadership challenges described here, thanks for what you do. The world is a better place because of your leadership!
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