Leadership and the Art of Struggle

July 17, 2013

Art of StruggleLots of leaders and books on leadership make it seem like success is inevitable and easy–that if you keep going on the same path and persevere, success will come. According to Dr. Steven Snyder, author of Leadership and the Art of Struggle, success doesn’t come easily or inevitably. It comes after and as a result of struggles.

I admire Steve for sharing his own and others’ stories of struggle. He was there in the early days of Microsoft (long before it became a household name), and he knows that it was not as easy as it looked for Bill Gates and the other leaders, including himself (freshly minted from Harvard Business School). If you’re a leader of an organization or have been one, you know that success never comes as easily as it might appear to those outside the organization.

When I sat down with Steve at my office a few weeks ago, it was one riveting story after another. He has so much depth and insight to offer, including his remarkable rise as an entrepreneur and scholar; he got his PhD in Psychology so he could figure out what was making him and the rest of us tick. He is very optimistic about how we each can Art of Strugglepositively effect our lives and shares that optimism in his book.

Steve believes that struggle is normal, and that it is often caused by change. Change leads to tension. That tension can appear in a variety of forms, since it may revolve around individual and institutional traditions, aspirations, relationships, and identity. Change and the resulting tension(s) may put the leader off balance. This sense of being off balance can be anything from a quiet nagging to feeling like the world is being carried on your shoulders. When leaders feel out of balance, they and their organizations struggle.

So what can and do leaders do when they’re struggling? Dr. Snyder has identified six narratives or scripts that leaders typically enact when they feel off balance. They are:

  1. Proactive Reinvention
  2. Stumble, Recover, and Learn
  3. Burnout
  4. Transcending Constraint
  5. Mission Impossible
  6. Confronting Failure

Which script do you follow? Which one should you be following? Get Steve’s book, Leadership and the Art of Struggle, to learn more about how to effectively manage your and your organization’s struggles. Struggles are normal and, more or less, unavoidable; it’s how you recognize and handle them that matters.



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