Pain and Leadership

Pain and Leadership

I love the movie “City Slickers.” In it there is a great scene where the three best friends are riding their horses and discuss “what was the best day of your life?; what was the worst day of your life?” After two of them share their best and worst days, the third at first declines to participate, but then recounts the day his cheating father left the family. He says it was the best day of his life. When he is then asked, “what was your worst day?” he dryly replies, “same day.” (click below to watch the clip)

I’ve always loved that scene because it is true for so many of us; I know it is for me. The day my boss said, “it’s time for you to go,” was the worst day of my life, but it was also the best day. It was the crowbar God used to move me out of my comfort zone in St Louis and stretch me in wonderful ways in Canada. I look back and think of all the things that happened while I was in Canada – I developed Vision For Your Life and started my consulting practice, I came up the wine learning curve, I made going to France a priority, I got back to singing professionally, and I grew as a leader – all because I endured the pain of the worst day of my life.

People don’t see the depth of pain – they see the results of pain.

The day we packed our belongings, said goodbye to our friends and drove our van out of St Louis I had to pull over to the side of the road because we were crying so hard I couldn’t drive. The pain was deep and the hurt was devastating. When we got to Canada I spent months looking back at what had transpired, where I had been wrong and what I had to change. I spent a lot of time processing what had happened and I lost my fear of being fired. I got a new sense of courage and security, and in an early challenge to my leadership I was able to stand up for the right thing – a decision that paved the way for all the future growth in the Province.

We tend to see great leaders but we don’t see what has happened to a person on the inside – the pain, and the depth of pain – that makes a person a great leader. We don’t see them process the pain and the deep reflection that makes them great leaders.

A.W. Tozer said, “It is doubtful if God can use a man greatly unless He has hurt him deeply.” It is doubtful if a great leader can ever be truly great unless he or she has suffered.

I’ve been reading the Edmund Morris biographies of Teddy Roosevelt. TR – as he was affectionately known – was an incredible person and an amazing leader, but he didn’t start out that way. He was an awkward little boy with debilitating asthma who was never the “cool kid” or enjoyed the company of friends growing up. But TR became one of the greatest President of the United States. He knew unimaginable pain.

His mother and wife died on the same day – his wife after giving birth to their first child. I cannot imagine the depth of that kind of pain. I cannot imagine the emotional cocktail that must have stirred in his soul as he processed his loss, his anger and his desperation. Teddy escaped to the badlands of North Dakota and learned to harness the fire that had long been inside of him. He searched the depths of his soul and found his courage, his core values and what he was willing to fight for. He became the man who could lead a nation after – only after – he dealt through the depth of his pain.

Great leaders embrace the suffering, allow the pain to penetrate deeply, and the healing to have it’s full pervasive effect. Only then can they lead without fear and know that – to paraphrase Teddy’s cousin – only fear is to be feared. Great leaders know how to make their worst day their best day because to quote Dr Bruce Thielman, “out of the bruises comes the beauty and the blessing.”

From a purely political perspective, Teddy Roosevelt became President of the United States largely because of his heroics on San Juan hill in Cuba. He charged up the hill unafraid of the onslaught of bullets raining down on him. Where does a leader get that kind of courage? Perhaps it’s because after your mother and your wife die on the same day, and you are still standing, you have lost all fear and you are brave enough to be a great leader.

You know who you are and you are not afraid to be it!

About the author / bobperkins

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