At the risk to totally dating myself, Lynn Anderson once had a hit song with the lyric, “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden.” That could be the anthem for many a leader. We come into organizations thinking that, once we get everything “in place”, there will be far more roses and sunshine that anything else. And then, reality sets in. Leaders are less important when the roses are in bloom. It’s when your organization hits the potholes that a leader’s skills really shine. Really!
Potholes — those unexpected jolts that are at times impossible to avoid — are a shock to the system. Your staff members look to the person whose hand is on the wheel (that would be you, the leader) to keep them on course and moving forward. How you deal with the potholes determines whether you and your staff will have the time and energy to plant roses, or if you will merely bounce from one jolting experience to another. The potholes are where leadership happens.
Max DePree says that a place of realized potential (that would be the roses) offers the gift of challenging work (Yep, potholes). It is the process — the at times painful, messy and uncertain tasks — of working through the tough stuff that makes you a better leader. I think we often have it backwards . . . assuming that one first has to be a great leader to get out of tough spots. Instead, it is the act of finding your way out of the potholes that allows you, in Max DePree’s words, to realize your potential. And that is where the roses are.
So what does that mean for you? Well, for starters, if you find yourself in the midst of a pothole, take heart. As long as you keep striving toward your mission, you are on the way to realizing your potential. (I know it doesn’t feel like it in the midst of the guck, but trust me on this one.) Also, quit expecting leadership to be easy, or to think you should “have all the answers.” Yes, over time, some things will become easier, but then the questions just get harder.
It is when you celebrate the leadership journey, working hard for a mission in which you truly believe, that the roses start to appear. And those roses are all the more beautiful because of the struggle you went through to find them. Down the road, there will be more potholes . . . which simply means you are continuing to move forward.
Lynn Anderson had it right. Leaders are not promised a rose garden. But the roses they do find, just on the other side of the potholes, are the sweetest roses of all.