How do you respond to leadership challenges?
Your answer to this question can say a lot about you as a person.
And if you’re a leader, your answer will also say a lot about your effectiveness as one.
Leadership challenges come in all shapes and sizes. Leaders are regularly tested and challenged in all aspects of their lives—career, personal lives, etc.
Whether they are pursuing great goals or are simply responding to the unexpected each day, leaders encounter challenges that shape them as influencers.
Leaders have many things in common, but how they respond to and prevail over leadership challenges tells us much about their abilities (read this post to learn more about the things that all great leaders have in common).
Leadership Challenges: The Big Three
There are three primary tests of leadership. The way a leader responds to these tests will teach you a lot about their character and competence.
Effective leaders learn to handle pressure with aplomb.
That being said, pressure is one of the many leadership challenges which can become too much for a person.
At times, pressure can make someone blow.
Many years ago I was taking a small commuter flight out of Newark. The plane was extremely small: there were ten or twelve rows with two seats each.
Two young pilots stood to the side of the rear entryway (a swing-down door with steps). They greeted everyone as they boarded. A small group boarded who knew each other and had been drinking heavily.
I was seated toward the front when this group started piling on top of each other in the back two rows (I’m not making this up, folks!). The pilots became more emphatic in asking everyone to move forward to their seats.
The drunken passengers didn’t and with so much weight in the back, the plane tipped over backward damaging the under-fuselage stabilizer. This was the point at which both pilots blew, yelling expletives at the passengers and berating them for being idiots (which they were).
The once polite pilot crew had become pit vipers.
Moral of the story? The most effective leaders handle pressure with grace.
This doesn’t mean they don’t get emotional at times (team members can take important cues from a leader’s emotions), but a great leader doesn’t lose control.
They don’t complain or become defeated. They improve and get better every day. Here’s how.
A leader can make several mistakes when they become successful:
- They think they did it alone and don’t give credit to those who supported them.
- They think they are all-powerful and success in one part of their lives will make them successful in others.
- They demonstrate hubris. Hubris is defined as excessive pride or self-confidence.
- All of the above.
While the old adage “If you done it, it ain’t bragging,” is a healthy perspective, adding a dose of good fortune and three doses of appreciation for those who helped is even healthier.
You know what also helps?
Remembering that sometimes a leader succeeds when he or she shouldn’t have, just like there are times they did everything right and things still turned out wrong.
Remember: it takes conscious effort to keep success in perspective.
It also takes a conscious effort to not overvalue or undervalue it.
A leader doesn’t—and shouldn’t—get full credit unless he or she takes full responsibility.
That includes taking the blame.
It is only human nature to take credit for success and place blame for failure.
One of the least considered aspects of leadership is this: leaders create results through others, so if those others succeed or fail, the leader shares ownership in the outcome.
Failure doesn’t have to be bad. There can be good news in failure.
The best leaders know that:
- We learn more from failure than we do success;
- failure keeps us humble;
- failure proves we are trying new things.
Leaders who only walk the known path aren’t innovators.
Everyone experiences failure, and how a leader responds to failure is extremely telling (if you want to learn more about some of the things that make a leader fall, read this informative blog post).
What is an immature leader?
Tantrums, blaming, complaining, and other outbursts or prolonged bouts of moodiness are a major sign of an immature leader.
Successful leaders aren’t happy about failure, but they don’t wallow in it.
They grow from it. They learn from it.
They analyze what happened and what could have been done differently and extract lessons for themselves and their team.
The next time you are dealing with significant pressure, success, or failure, recognize them as tests that can increase or decrease your standing as a leader.
Recognize these leadership challenges and grow.
Mark Sanborn is a leadership keynote speaker and advisor to leaders based in Denver, CO.
To learn how to be an effective leader and how to center your life around your highest priorities, consider reading my Extraordinary Living Journal – buy one, get one free!
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This post was originally published on December 21, 2018 and has been updated for 2019.