The Long-Game of Leadership


I am trying to cut down on my caffeine intake. Adapting to this change is unpleasant for me (and quite possibly for those around me as well…) In the midst of pursuing this goal, it definitely does not feel like a good thing — headaches, sluggishness and the knowledge that the means to make the “pain” go away is as close as the next cup of tea (or two or three). And yet I persist, because of the benefits that I am confident will come when I make it to the other side of this unpleasant shift in behavior.

In most cases, change involves both some degree of pain (for you and/or those around you) and a measure of time to walk through that discomfort to get to the good stuff on the other side. In our instant everything, immediate gratification, “I want the results/the pain to stop/the reward right now” world, it can be harder than ever for leaders to stay the course and see a major change through to get to “the good stuff” on the other side. There can be immense pushback to the “pain”, especially if the benefits aren’t immediately apparent. How many times have you heard people in organizations talk about the management “idea of the month”… with the attitude of “I’ll just outwait their attempt at change and it will go away.” (and many times, it does — which only reinforces this opinion!)

Leadership — true leadership — is a long game. It is not about this week or this month or this quarter. It is about recognizing and pursuing the shifts that need to be made now to prepare us to capitalize on opportunities next year, or five years from now, or ten. And it is hard. Staff and boards and those with whom you are partnering (add your own groups to the list) understandably want to see results. Of course leaders do, too… but long-term results often take long-term effort… and habits, and considerations, and perspectives that are different from those being pursued by many others. So there is pain, it takes time, and many may question why you are doing what you are doing. Where do I sign up, right?

Here’s what I know. Persistence pays off. And if people understand why you are asking them to do things that feel hard or uncomfortable, they may still grumble but they will be much more likely to stay the course. You have to be abundantly clear, and then become a broken record, on the why. You have to make the end goal so understandable, and so compelling, that your people will willingly walk through the pain, and have the patience, to reach the reward on the other side.

It’s not for the faint of heart, or the impatient, or uncertain, but the leadership long game may be exactly what your organization needs. Are you up for the challenge?

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