Leaders Do Difficult Things

What do Nelson Mandela, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Alexander the Great, Martin Luther King Jnr., Vladimir Lenin, and Napoleon Bonaparte have in common?

And then more recently, consider:

As we sat together in the Johannesburg Country Club lounge a number of weeks ago, I thought to myself how courageous Graham Briggs, CEO of Harmony Gold, is.  This thought came as he shared the thinking behind why he and his team had decided to shut down their biggest operation – the Kusasalethu Mine.

In South Korea, Park Geun-hye has recently become her nation’s first female president.  South Korea, and Asian countries in general are well known for their discrimination against women, and Park has an upward battle on her hands trying to rectify this.

One in three Russians is reported to be smokers. And in a market estimated to be worth $22 billion, Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has signed a law to ban the public consumption of tobacco products.

Dr Mamphela Ramphele is facing a barrage of criticism as she is pushing forward to make changes in South Africa through her new political party, Agang – Change South Africa.

Again, what do all of these leaders have in common?

Yes, it is that they have done or are doing difficult things.

It is an interesting fact that few of us can name leaders who haven’t done or been involved in some sort of difficulty or another.   This tells us something about becoming a noteworthy, extraordinary leader.

As we look into history and consider the acts of heroism and courage that have caused these names to be foremost in our minds, we must ask another question:

Why are they able to do this while so many of us do not?

Analysis of this question yields some interesting results.

1. Foresight and a thorough understanding of why it must happen

 A quote: “A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.” Max Lucado. This quote is impressive because it highlights that the function and purpose of the orchestra can only be realised if a “sacrifice” is made.

Lesser leaders struggle to move their minds and the minds of their followers over and past the problems that obscure their view of what can be.  In their minds they say, “If I do this, we are going to have trouble.”  Extraordinary leaders can’t help but say, “If we do this, we are going to be rewarded with that.”

This is not to say that extraordinary leaders do not see the issues that need to be overcome.  Rather, they understand that in overcoming these obstacles and challenges, greater things can be achieved.

2. Rich information with which to make decisions

 “A good general not only sees the way to victory; he also knows when victory is impossible.” Polybius, Greek Historian

 Extraordinary leaders do not assume anything.  Their decisions are made after a process of interrogation and evaluation of all facts surrounding a situation.  Of course, many leaders over evaluate and get caught in what is commonly known as “Analysis Paralysis.”

Decisions made without the consideration of all facts do not make provision for potential concerns and problems.

3. Counsel

“One cool judgment is worth a thousand hasty counsels. The thing to do is to supply light and not heat.” Woodrow T. Wilson, 28th President of the United States of America

We need to surround ourselves with the right people.  Whether we are 58 years old or 20, we all lack the ability to see things from all angles.  This means that we need to ensure that we bring others into our circle who provide the perspectives we may lack.

Another aspect of this is also worth mentioning:  Some of the most profitable and influential products and ideas the world has seen were not created or made by academics with multiple degrees, doctorates, and journal appearances.  Many of the biggest organisations in the world have been founded and run by college dropouts and so called socially challenged, problem teens.

However, and balancing this view, we must understand that most of the greatest discoveries and solutions the world has ever seen have been by those who have become the leading minds in their fields.  A Masters Degree or Doctorate could offer insights into specific fields that cannot be found anywhere else.

Why do I mention this?  Because often we seem to naturally gravitate to one of these or the other.  A healthy balance of the two is essential.

The result of having these three elements seems to be a much higher confidence to act.

And when they are in place, acts we often, from an outside perspective, deem as difficult or courageous, are not so.

Another important feature of the leadership thinking of extraordinary leaders needs to be highlighted, and can be done so with reference to the Max Lucado quote about the orchestra:  What we may consider to be a sacrifice is in fact an investment.  Why?  Having enjoyed an evening filled with harmony brought about by the talent of the orchestra, and once those attending have heard the final notes play, they stand up and applaud both the orchestra and conductor.  The conductor who initially had to “turn his back” on the audience receives veneration and applause for his ability to bring the best out of the skilled musicians he was leading.  And every now and then a conductor will be given the very lofty title of Maestro, or Master of his or her craft.

It is only in the “sacrifice” most of us are unwilling to make, and that these great leaders are willing to, that a legacy is forged – an interesting consideration for any of us who are people or crowd pleasers.

In conclusion let us consider what we here at Leadership Platform refer to as the Extraordinary Cycle.  Within this cycle one of the keys to becoming extraordinary is engaging circumstances that others shy away from.  And the reason for this is that extraordinary leaders seem to have a natural, instinctive understanding of what we call The Law of Resistance.  The Law states:  “All movement in life is accompanied by resistance”.  Extraordinary leaders do not resent resistance but rather, with this understanding, leverage it in various positive ways.

Please always remember that leaders do difficult things. Rough waters are truer tests of leadership.

In calm water every ship has a good captain. (Swedish Proverb)

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Adriaan Groenewald is a leadership expert and commentator. Do you recognize some areas in yourself or your team that need improvement? Email Adriaan on adriaan@leadershipplatform.com for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside your organisation. Follow him on Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP or @LeadershipPform.




Founder of Future CEOs™ and co-host of the Future CEOs™ show on CliffCentral.com, Gareth seeks to empower high potential young executives and ambitious entrepreneurs as they push for CEO status.

Call: +27 (0)12 653 3022
Email: info@leadershipplatform.com

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Leadership Platform is a specialist leadership development consultancy, focusing on creating measurable impact to the bottom line through the enhancement of leadership understanding and engagement.


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