You feel it sometimes, even often. The expectation that you need to be the strong one. The balanced one. The calm one. To be the rock in the storm. Each time you’re the voice of reason in times of conflict or change, or have to give difficult feedback, or to make a painful decision, or to lead others once again through uncertainty, you feel it.
Let's face it, being the bastion for others takes its toll. It can feel overwhelming and unrelenting. Lonely and, at times, unappreciated. It certainly is a common refrain from my coaching clients, and one I echo from my own leadership experience.
Marcus Aurelius said,
Be like a rocky promontory against which the restless surf continually pounds; it stands fast while the churning sea is lulled to sleep at its feet.
It’s easy to question in the heat of the moment why these challenges must come to you, when they are not even of your own making. It’s here that your judgment of others will try to edge its way in. Why, you might ask,cannot others be strong enough to deal with this?
It’s here, precisely, that I found myself floundering as a leader. As soon as I allowed myself to ask and then indulge in this question, I was taken down the torrent of judgment and all of its attendant emotions.
But as I learned in time, this is simply, leadership. You don’t get to pick and choose. It’s all-comers.
Leadership is being the rocky promontory. It comes with the turf. The sooner that you accept this, the sooner you strengthen as a leader, and create a calmer, more resilient, inner landscape. What we resist, persists. Coming into one’s own as a leader begins with acceptance of what is. Pushing back against the relentless surf of leadership responsibility by entertaining the question, “why me?”, is what erodes the rocky promontory. Degrades it so that in time, there’s little left.
If you feel depleted as a leader, your resilience waning - wondering how much more you can take - ask yourself, what am I resisting? If you’re unsure, ask yourself, “What and who am I judging, blaming, or criticizing right now.” These are sure signs that your emotions, driven by ego or inner-critic-linked resistance, are steering the ship.
Accept that as a leader, out there like a rocky promontory, you are exposed. Vulnerable. This is a fact.
Yet, you are there precisely for this reason. To be the strength when others cannot. To absorb and share the useful and the good the incessant waves bring, and to disperse and dispel that which is not. You are the calm in the storm. The bastion of resilience and strength. The keeper of perspectives.
This is what those you lead need. This is why you are their leader.
So, accept that which is inevitable. The surf will not cease. Be thankful for the opportunity to be that bastion for others. And appreciate that leadership is a crucible for growth. Your own more than anyone else’s. And in that crucible of chaos and change and uncertainty, a sort of metamorphosis happens. In time, the leader – the person - shifts from limestone to marble. Not just the surface has hardened, but the entire suite of minerals comprising it has changed.
In that crucible of time and pressure, the cocoon is shed, and a rebirth of sorts occurs. In acceptance of what is, the true leader emerges. Calm. Confident.
Glenn Case is a Leadership, Executive and Team Coach in Vancouver, Canada.