Do It Anyway: Why greatness in leadership often emerges from heartache, pain and risk

February 8, 2013
By

do_it_anyway_copy-620x420One of my youngest teammates–at AidChild in Uganda–is currently in the midst of a great trial; not related to physical unhealth or economic need, but in the form of an attack on his integrity fueled by jealousy and fear.

Welcome to leadership.

In my research into the ingredients of effective and world-changing leadership, those persons at the helm often emerge from backgrounds of terrific heartache and pain.  I believe that empathy and sympathy are key ingredients of leadership-that-matters, and it is difficult to understand Other when one hasn’t experienced life’s challenges as Self.

If you haven’t had a bad day lately, or you haven’t grieved, worried or cried, ask yourself if you’re occupying the days of your human experience as you should.

Another colleague was limping around the office the other day because of a new and strenuous workout.  (I know what that’s like!)  But the fact is, she wouldn’t have the physical wellness and strength she has without the stress on the body that results from her belief in “no pain, no gain.”  The same is exponentially greater in the worlds of spirituality and leadership.  The building of mental and spiritual muscle immediately results in fatigue, and ultimately results in greatness.

Consider the following:

  • Dr. Martin Luther King.  Persecuted and attacked for years, assassinated at age 39—my age.
  • Nelson Mandela.  Wrongfully imprisoned for 27 years, a troubled and failed marriage, the loss of children to death, current unhealth.
  • Oprah Winfrey.  Victim of sexual molestation, American poverty, and mistreatment due to racism and those who judge according to body weight.
  • Jesus Christ.  Persecuted, tortured and crucified.
  • Gandhi.  Wrongfully imprisoned and silenced.  Also assassinated.
  • Helen Keller.  Unable to see, hear or speak, and yet one of the world’s greatest thinkers and activists.

This human experience is froth with opportunities to effect change—or to dwell on heartache and pain.  While the latter must not be ignored, neither must it be the focus of this short experience.

Be afraid.  Be very afraid.  But do it anyway.  Believe that you were specifically chosen “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

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4 Responses to Do It Anyway: Why greatness in leadership often emerges from heartache, pain and risk

  1. SUZY
    February 8, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    YES! Chosen…”for such a time as this”!!! PERFECT. Thank you again for this pungent truth!

  2. February 9, 2013 at 9:47 am

    I recently taught a workshop called the “Attitude of Gratitude.” I tell the story of a young woman from an immigrant family. Although it was hoped that her family would do well in America, it simply was not the case. Her father was an alcoholic and her mother was mentally ill. By her teens, she had attempted suicide three times. After enduring severe abuse, she was placed in Foster Care. Due to the trauma she had experience, she had emotionally and mentally shut down. At school, they had tested her I.Q. When she met with her advisor, she inquired about the score. The woman across the table looked at her with sympathy and told her, “Don’t worry about it.” This disturbed her. She went to the library and began to look up I.Q. scores. She noted the score for genius, above average intelligence, average intelligence, and so forth. Finally, when she found her score, fifty, she read the word, “MORON.” A young woman from an immigrant family, she did not know what the word meant, but just the sound of it “MORE-RON” did not seem comforting. She looked up the word in the dictionary. The definition was “mentally retarded.” Although this was discouraging, the young lady thought to herself, “Well, I will not look up any other scores, just in case it gets lower, but I can do the best I can. If I am going to be a “moron”, I will be the best “moron” I can be. Slowly, her report card began to reflect changes from a “Fs and Ds” to “As and Bs”. By the time she graduated high school, she had two college prep courses and one advanced class. Eventually she would go to college and graduate cum-laudi. Then she would enter her into a graduate program and is an honor student. I knew her well. She said, “My heart has taken me places, some have only dreamed of.” I know this to be true, because that girl was me. Although I would never want to relive the pains of my past nor wish it upon my worst enemy, I have learned, it is not what happens to you, but what happens through you that counts.

  3. lynne
    February 9, 2013 at 11:51 am

    I like this thought of relooking at how we view bad days.

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Nathaniel is CEO of AidChild.org. He holds a Master's Degree in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University where he was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship, and winner of the 2010 Harvard HDP Marshal Award. He also holds a PhD in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego where he was the Dammeyer Fellow in Global Education Leadership, and a Cordes Fellow at Opportunity Collaboration. Nathaniel is author of "We Are Not Mahogany: Three stories about the male African life." Prior to his move to Uganda in 2000, Nathaniel was Deputy Director of the Office of the Governor of Arizona, and Director of Education at Leadership, Inc.

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