No pain, no gain business leadership

About eight years ago, as an aspiring business coach and leadership expert, I began research on building better people, better talent and better leaders.

I interviewed a vast number of people, hoping to uncover hidden leadership gems on building strong, confident and productive people capable of catapulting organizations forward.

One of those interview gems was Mr. S. – a wildly successful man in his mid-90’s who, despite nearly a century of knowledge, was still deeply committed to learning.

(That should have been my first clue into his leadership expertise).

“I have a goal of finishing all of the great books written in this world,” he told me.

“I still have so many to read, so I better stick around for a while!”

We spoke for more than an hour about the business world’s challenges and one of the questions I asked him was, “If there is one thing we can do to build better, more capable leaders, what is it?”

“More simulated arduous experiences,” he said without pause.

I dug deeper, asking for more.

“Everything is simulated. We get caught up in things so being important, we treat them as the single biggest events of our lives,” he said.

“We become paralyzed with fear, compromising our values when we are overwhelmed and the truth is, for most instances… they don’t really matter. What matters is learning.”

This was profound, so I dug even further. Meanwhile, I was processing my past experiences in light speed, nodding my head at those numerous instances matching Mr. S’s leadership parable.

“Once we understand that everything is essentially a simulation, preparing us for the next day, then we can seek arduous circumstances that stretch and exercise our capabilities,” he said.

“The more we seek these or the more we create these for the people we care most about, the more we are developing capable and confident people.”

But then it dawned on me.

“What about too many arduous experiences?” I asked.

Again, without pause, Mr. S responded.

“Don’t throw someone to the wolves and leave them there. Let them know you’re there. You won’t take care of them, but you’re there to catch them and help them grow,” he explained.

“When people experience the pain of failure or the discomfort of stress, that’s important information they can learn from.”

He also spoke about these situations and their connection to confidence and compassion.

“When people have arduous experiences they understand pain and struggle, therefore they’re better able to put themselves in others’ shoes,” he said.

“It builds compassion and it builds confidence… because they’ve been challenged before and they understand the traits and behaviors that can get them through this one.”

This interview happened more than 8 years ago and has influenced the way I parent, how I view my own business leadership and, of course, the program we use to build exceptional leaders.

What he’s saying captures one of the critical leadership mindsets we cultivate with our business clients – it’s a physiological reality that no pain, means no gain.

When you intentionally pursue the pain necessary to grow and develop, over time you become a more fit, capable and confident leader. It’s simple, not easy.

Here is a summary:

  1. Act as if everything is a simulation
  2. You are never a complete product (today’s challenges are preparing you for tomorrow)
  3. Continuous arduous experiences create the stress and resistance necessary for growth, confidence and resilience