Leadership and the Art of Struggle

How Great Leaders Grow through Challenge and Adversity

Steven Snyder (Author)

Publication date: 02/08/2013

Leadership and the Art of Struggle

This book shatters leadership myths to reveal a new understanding of how exceptional leaders grow from adversity.

  • Offers proven strategies and tactics to help guide leaders through difficult or challenging situations
  • Features powerful first-person stories from leaders who have mastered the art of struggle
  • Written by an experienced leader and executive coach who worked directly with Bill Gates at Microsoft in its early years
  • Read the press release here; for media review copies contact [email protected]m

Leadership and the Art of Struggle shatters leadership myths to reveal a new understanding of how exceptional leaders grow from adversity. The image that effective leaders guide their organizations on perpetually smooth journeys quite simply defies reality. Leadership is often a struggle, and yet strong taboos keep us from talking openly and honestly about our struggles for fear of looking weak and seeming to lack confidence.

Exceptional leaders intuitively understand the paradox. They know it's precisely struggle that unlocks the potential for the greatest growth. Instead of denying struggle, these leaders embrace struggle as an opportunity for learning, as an art to be mastered.

Leadership and the Art of Struggle paints a realistic portrait of how great leaders navigate intense challenges for personal growth and organizational success. Through 150 stories of leadership struggle drawn from nearly 100 interviews, as well as from his experiences as an early executive at Microsoft, a CEO of a public company, and an executive coach, Steven Snyder derives mastery strategies for welcoming struggle as an integral part of your leadership journey. To help you implement each of these strategies, he offers a host of unique tools and specific, hands-on practices. You'll learn how to cultivate the best mindset for confronting challenges, explore multiple tactics for dealing with struggle, and keep your energy high so you can continue to learn and grow.

Leadership and the Art of Struggle begins a new conversation about leadership. The very striving to make important human values real and effective is core to the practice of leadership. By mastering the art of struggle, leaders meet life's challenges and adversities, focusing their energies on what matters most.

  • Offers proven strategies and tactics to help guide leaders through difficult or challenging situations
  • Features powerful first-person stories from leaders who have mastered the art of struggle
  • Written by an experienced leader and executive coach who worked directly with Bill Gates at Microsoft in its early years
  • Read the press release here; for media review copies contact [email protected]m

 

Leadership and the Art of Struggle shatters leadership myths to reveal a new understanding of how exceptional leaders grow from adversity. The image that effective leaders guide their organizations on perpetually smooth journeys quite simply defies reality. Leadership is often a struggle, and yet strong taboos keep us from talking openly and honestly about our struggles for fear of looking weak and seeming to lack confidence.

Exceptional leaders intuitively understand the paradox. They know its precisely struggle that unlocks the potential for the greatest growth. Instead of denying struggle, these leaders embrace struggle as an opportunity for learning, as an art to be mastered.

Leadership and the Art of Struggle paints a realistic portrait of how great leaders navigate intense challenges for personal growth and organizational success. Through 150 stories of leadership struggle drawn from nearly 100 interviews, as well as from his experiences as an early executive at Microsoft, a CEO of a public company, and an executive coach, Steven Snyder derives mastery strategies for welcoming struggle as an integral part of your leadership journey. To help you implement each of these strategies, he offers a host of unique tools and specific, hands-on practices. Youll learn how to cultivate the best mindset for confronting challenges, explore multiple tactics for dealing with struggle, and keep your energy high so you can continue to learn and grow.

Leadership and the Art of Struggle begins a new conversation about leadership. The very striving to make important human values real and effective is core to the practice of leadership. By mastering the art of struggle, leaders meet lifes challenges and adversities, focusing their energies on what matters most.

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Overview

This book shatters leadership myths to reveal a new understanding of how exceptional leaders grow from adversity.

  • Offers proven strategies and tactics to help guide leaders through difficult or challenging situations
  • Features powerful first-person stories from leaders who have mastered the art of struggle
  • Written by an experienced leader and executive coach who worked directly with Bill Gates at Microsoft in its early years
  • Read the press release here; for media review copies contact [email protected]m

Leadership and the Art of Struggle shatters leadership myths to reveal a new understanding of how exceptional leaders grow from adversity. The image that effective leaders guide their organizations on perpetually smooth journeys quite simply defies reality. Leadership is often a struggle, and yet strong taboos keep us from talking openly and honestly about our struggles for fear of looking weak and seeming to lack confidence.

Exceptional leaders intuitively understand the paradox. They know it's precisely struggle that unlocks the potential for the greatest growth. Instead of denying struggle, these leaders embrace struggle as an opportunity for learning, as an art to be mastered.

Leadership and the Art of Struggle paints a realistic portrait of how great leaders navigate intense challenges for personal growth and organizational success. Through 150 stories of leadership struggle drawn from nearly 100 interviews, as well as from his experiences as an early executive at Microsoft, a CEO of a public company, and an executive coach, Steven Snyder derives mastery strategies for welcoming struggle as an integral part of your leadership journey. To help you implement each of these strategies, he offers a host of unique tools and specific, hands-on practices. You'll learn how to cultivate the best mindset for confronting challenges, explore multiple tactics for dealing with struggle, and keep your energy high so you can continue to learn and grow.

Leadership and the Art of Struggle begins a new conversation about leadership. The very striving to make important human values real and effective is core to the practice of leadership. By mastering the art of struggle, leaders meet life's challenges and adversities, focusing their energies on what matters most.

  • Offers proven strategies and tactics to help guide leaders through difficult or challenging situations
  • Features powerful first-person stories from leaders who have mastered the art of struggle
  • Written by an experienced leader and executive coach who worked directly with Bill Gates at Microsoft in its early years
  • Read the press release here; for media review copies contact [email protected]m

 

Leadership and the Art of Struggle shatters leadership myths to reveal a new understanding of how exceptional leaders grow from adversity. The image that effective leaders guide their organizations on perpetually smooth journeys quite simply defies reality. Leadership is often a struggle, and yet strong taboos keep us from talking openly and honestly about our struggles for fear of looking weak and seeming to lack confidence.

Exceptional leaders intuitively understand the paradox. They know its precisely struggle that unlocks the potential for the greatest growth. Instead of denying struggle, these leaders embrace struggle as an opportunity for learning, as an art to be mastered.

Leadership and the Art of Struggle paints a realistic portrait of how great leaders navigate intense challenges for personal growth and organizational success. Through 150 stories of leadership struggle drawn from nearly 100 interviews, as well as from his experiences as an early executive at Microsoft, a CEO of a public company, and an executive coach, Steven Snyder derives mastery strategies for welcoming struggle as an integral part of your leadership journey. To help you implement each of these strategies, he offers a host of unique tools and specific, hands-on practices. Youll learn how to cultivate the best mindset for confronting challenges, explore multiple tactics for dealing with struggle, and keep your energy high so you can continue to learn and grow.

Leadership and the Art of Struggle begins a new conversation about leadership. The very striving to make important human values real and effective is core to the practice of leadership. By mastering the art of struggle, leaders meet lifes challenges and adversities, focusing their energies on what matters most.

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Meet the Author


Visit Author Page - Steven Snyder



Steven Snyder, PhD, is the founder of Twin Cities–based Snyder Leadership Group, an organizational consulting firm dedicated to cultivating inspired leadership. Snyder has developed the breakthrough concepts introduced in Leadership and the Art of Struggle based on years of research, including extensive interviews with senior executives from major corporations as well as his personal experience working closely with Bill Gates. 

Snyder joined Microsoft in 1983, when that company was in its infancy. His work there, praised by Gates, secured the relationship with IBM during a crucial stage in Microsoft’s growth and helped shape the history of the personal computer industry. Promoted as Microsoft’s first business unit general manager, Snyder led the company’s development tools business, where his team won PC Magazine’s prestigious Technical Excellence Award on three occasions. 

After his influential tenure at Microsoft, Snyder earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in psychology from the University of Minnesota. He applied his multidisciplinary background to initiate innovative soft ware for human resource development at Personnel Decisions International, a worldwide human resources consulting firm.

When Internet advancements drew Snyder’s attention, he joined forces with computer scientists from the University of Minnesota to pioneer a groundbreaking technology called collaborative filtering. As co-founder and CEO of Net Perceptions, he successfully commercialized this invention to enable the real-time personalized recommendations that have become central to the online experience. This groundbreaking work won Snyder the first-ever World Technology Award for Commerce for “contributing to the advance of emerging technologies for the benefit of business and society.”

In addition to his work with Snyder Leadership Group, Snyder was an Executive in Residence at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Integrative Leadership and is currently an Executive Fellow in Leadership at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. Snyder also taught business ethics at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management for seven years. 

Snyder has been a guest on ABC-TV’s Nightline as well as a featured speaker in North America, Europe, and Asia. He was selected to deliver the seventeenth JRD Tata Oration on Business Ethics in Jamshedpur, India. 

In addition to his psychology degrees, Snyder earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Drexel University and a master’s degree in business administration from the Harvard Business School, where he was a Baker Scholar. He currently lives with his family in the Minneapolis area, where he remains actively engaged in philanthropy and community service. 

Here’s how you can connect with Steven Snyder:

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/stevensnyder

Facebook: www.facebook.com/artofstruggle

Website: www.snyderleadership.com

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Table of Contents

Foreword by Bill George

Introduction

PART I Becoming Grounded

CHAPTER 1 Struggle Is Not a Four-Letter Word

CHAPTER 2 Adaptive Energy

CHAPTER 3 Turn Your Energy into Adaptive Energy

Grounding Practice: Adopt a Growth Mind-Set

Grounding Practice: Become Resilient in the Face of Failure

CHAPTER 4 Make Sense of a Chaotic World

Grounding Practice: Draw Your Tension Map

CHAPTER 5 Regain Balance

Grounding Practice: Center Your Mind, Body, and Spirit

Grounding Practice: Find the Support You Need

PART II Exploring New Pathways

CHAPTER 6 Navigate Tensions

Exploring Practice: Reimagine the Situation to Discover a New Creative Path

Exploring Practice: Reinvent Yourself

CHAPTER 7 Illuminate Blind Spots

Exploring Practice: Overcome Your Blind Spots

CHAPTER 8 Transcend Conflict

Exploring Practice: Heal Yourself from Confl ict

Exploring Practice: Envision the Common Ground

CHAPTER 9 Discover Purpose and Meaning through Struggle

Exploring Practice: Write or Revise

Your Personal Vision Statement

Exploring Practice: Recommit, Pivot, or Leap

PART III Deepening Adaptive Energy

CHAPTER 10 Peer into the Future

Deepening Practice: Prepare for What Lies Ahead

CHAPTER 11 Savor the Marathon

Deepening Practice: Harness the Engine of Discipline

Deepening Practice: Celebrate What's Precious

Additional Resources

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

About the Author

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Excerpt

Leadership and the Art of Struggle

1
Struggle Is Not a Four-Letter Word

Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for
they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our
hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before—more
sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle
.

—Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

RITA MARSHALL’S TALENTS FOR CRAFTING GREAT PUBLIC RELAtions (PR) campaigns propelled her into a managerial position by the age of 30. Soon after arriving at her new company, she encountered her first leadership struggle.

Marshall was working as a PR professional in an advertising agency. The two disciplines—advertising and public relations—are very different, with dissimilar business models, nomenclatures, and rhythms for engaging with clients. Before she stepped into a formal leadership role, these differences, while minor annoyances, had not directly concerned her. With her new responsibilities, however, came new pressures. Now she had to find a way to make her company’s advertising-oriented policies relevant and meaningful to her PR team, all the while motivating them to achieve results. She found it especially challenging to be working with different players, customs, and rules.

During our interview Marshall told me: “I was tasked with being a leader to grow this division, and yet we had an Excel grid to track projects and progress and touch points that didn’t even match up to the types of projects and deliverables that we had on the other side of the business. Even the words were different. You want your team focused on the work and the deliverables for the client, and yet they were getting caught up in internal details for administering the business.”

Greatly outnumbered, and with an advertising-oriented boss who had a different view of public relations, Marshall started to feel disillusioned and alone. Her boss began to cast doubt on her leadership, which caused her to doubt herself: “There was a point where I just thought, Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe I don’t know what I’m doing. Maybe they shouldn’t put me out there in front of clients. I guess I just don’t have it. And that’s a very frustrating thing when you’re trying to lead, when you have self-doubts and your team is looking to you.”

Marshall’s self-doubts made matters worse. She found it difficult to lead with conviction and became frustrated with a culture that seemed to be blocking her progress. She had to do something. But what?

The Paradox of the Positive

Over the past several decades, the positive psychology movement has gained considerable momentum. It cascades into all areas of life—at work, with friends, in the community—subtly (and at times not so subtly), nudging a positive spin. All in all this is a good thing. Positive energy begets more positive energy. And numerous psychological studies show that when people feel optimistic and confident, they approach life with more vigor, have more-pleasant relationships, and are just plain happier.

Yet the full-throated emphasis on the positive comes at a price. The way that many organizational cultures internalize the principles of positive psychology actually undermines the very intentions of the movement. Indeed, positive psychology does not advocate ignoring the daunting life challenges that other branches of psychology attempt to treat; it is simply a call to pay as much attention to strengths as psychologists have historically given to weaknesses. This “be positive at all costs” misinterpretation can trigger unintentional consequences as it seeps into the cultural bloodstream. For instance, tuning out all negative thoughts and emotions can be a roadblock to the honest conversations people need to have with themselves and with others.

The parallels between cultural attitudes toward positivity and the view of struggle are striking. Like anything other than perpetual cheerfulness, struggle is commonly seen as a sign of weakness, a notion reinforced through a labyrinth of implicit messages. Many leaders unconsciously categorize the word struggle as negative and off-putting, a taboo, which makes dealing with struggle even more difficult than it needs to be.

This can become especially problematic when leaders find themselves facing significant challenges. When external pressures for positive spin create dissonance with reality, leaders may ignore the incongruity they feel in their guts and stifle the candid conversations that could guide them forward. They may unconsciously compare themselves with others and allow this comparison to diminish their self-image and curb their potential. They may fall into the trap of thinking that leaders are supposed to be perfect—or at least perfectly capable of dealing with struggle. Consequently, they can feel embarrassed and stigmatized, thinking, Something must be wrong with me. I’m not like all the other successful leaders out there.

But of course no leader is perfect. All human beings have their own unique flaws and frailties. And of course struggle is a natural part of leadership. Dick Schulze, founder and former CEO of consumer electronics giant Best Buy, who built the company to more than $50 billion in sales with over 180,000 employees, said it best when he told me: “I don’t think that there has been a year in my 45 with the company that hasn’t been beset with struggle.”

Schulze then added:

With every episode of struggle, there is a learning opportunity.

Resolving the Paradox

The solution to the positivity paradox is relatively simple, but it demands a leap of faith. Instead of denying struggle, or feeling some degree of shame, savvy leaders embrace struggle as an opportunity for growth and learning, as an art to be mastered. They come to see struggle as a universal rite of passage without allowing themselves to become mired in it. They trust that engaging earnestly with struggle will ultimately take them to a better place, heightening their awareness of themselves and others and opening their minds to possibilities they may not have otherwise imagined.

Examples abound of prominent leaders who fail in a specific pursuit but who emerge stronger and more resilient from the experience. Had it not been for President John F. Kennedy’s failure in the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, he might not have gained the wisdom needed to meet the greatest challenge of his presidency 18 months later: the Cuban Missile Crisis, which imperiled the very survival of the human race.

Clearly, struggle and leadership are intertwined. Teaming the courage to confront conflict with openness to new learning and the energy of positive thinking can turn struggle into transformation, paving the way for accelerated growth and development. The more that leaders move away from negative stereotypes and welcome a new relationship with struggle, the more they leave room for new possibilities to emerge. They begin asking better questions and recognizing the positive aspects of struggle. Shedding old assumptions, they free themselves to engage differently with the world around them, shaping their conversations to be more open and adaptive.

Two Stories of Struggle

Allow me to introduce you to two remarkable leaders whose struggle stories are vastly different. One was thrust into a top leadership job during a time of crisis; the other strove to fulfill a vision so ambitious and far-reaching that it seemed beyond the scope of human achievement.

Anne Mulcahy

In 2008 Anne Mulcahy was named CEO of the Year by Chief Executive magazine for her work at Xerox Corporation. Eight years earlier few would have predicted it.

In May 2000 Xerox was in turmoil. The board had abruptly fired G. Richard Thoman as CEO after a very brief tenure and brought back his predecessor, Paul Allaire, who personally recruited Mulcahy as president/chief operating officer (COO). By October, Mulcahy began to understand just how bad things were. Third-quarter earnings had missed analysts’ expectations, and the company was close to declaring bankruptcy. Mulcahy candidly remarked on an October 3 investor conference call, “Xerox’s business model is unsustainable.” That simple comment sent the stock price nose-diving and set the stage for an extraordinary story of leadership growth and corporate transformation.

Shortly after that conference call, Mulcahy needed to make one of the most important decisions of her career: whether to seek bankruptcy protection or try to reverse the hemorrhaging of cash that was pushing the company close to insolvency. The company’s financial advisers strongly recommended the bankruptcy route, but Mulcahy had a different vision. She felt bankruptcy would tarnish the reputation of the venerable company she had come to dearly love over her 25 years of employment there.

Instead, Mulcahy set the company down a path of pruning expenses and selling off business units, all the while preserving core assets essential to the rebuilding efforts. One of the core assets she preserved was the company’s fledgling color-printing and copying business. In 2000 large-scale color printing was still in its infancy, but Mulcahy placed a big bet that the ensuing decade would see huge growth. She was right. By 2007, 40 percent of Xerox’s total revenue would come from color printing, and Xerox products would capture the highest market share.

Early in her tenure as president/COO, Mulcahy met personally with key customers and the company’s top 100 leaders, sharing her passion and enthusiasm and convincing them to remain loyal during this difficult time. She told her sales force: “I will go anywhere, anytime, to save a Xerox customer.”

Her mission was nothing short of “restoring Xerox to a great company once again.” But the path to get there would be dogged with adversity. “There were many near-death moments when we weren’t sure the company could get through the crisis,” she admitted.

Not only was the company’s survival at stake but the struggle cut to the very core of Mulcahy’s identity. “One day I had just flown back from Japan,” she said. “I came back to the office and found it had been a dismal day. At around 8:30 p.m. on my way home, I pulled over to the side of the Merritt Parkway and said to myself, I don’t know where to go. I don’t want to go home. There’s just no place to go.”

In the midst of her despair, Mulcahy checked her voice mail and found a supportive message from one of her colleagues telling her how much everyone believed in her and the company. “That was all I needed to just drive home, and get up again the next morning,” she said.

Mulcahy’s leadership growth is even more remarkable when you consider her background. She had come through the ranks in sales, spent time in human resources, and had just become the general manager of a small, out-of-the-way business unit when she was tapped for the role of president/COO.

One of the most intriguing aspects of Mulcahy’s background is that she had very little financial training. She had never held a financial management job and felt clearly over her head as she navigated the hostile financial waters of disappointing earnings, stock market declines, and angry analysts.

Mulcahy’s untimely remark during the October 3, 2000, investor conference call is a good example of her financial inexperience. Her bold statement that Xerox’s business model was unsustainable may have been accurate, although there were undoubtedly more market-sensitive ways to communicate Xerox’s shaky financial status while still remaining authentic as a leader.

Fortunately, Mulcahy sought out capable mentors who helped her recover from that early misstep. In 2002, a year after being promoted to CEO, she personally renegotiated a $7 billion revolving line of credit, pulling together a consortium of 58 banks that needed to approve the deal. In the process she went toe to toe with Citigroup CEO Sandy Weill, successfully securing his commitment to personally reel in three holdout banks.

Mulcahy would summarize her experience as follows: “This was a job that would dramatically change my life, requiring every ounce of energy that I had. I never expected to be CEO, nor was I groomed for it.”

Bill Gates

In marked contrast to Anne Mulcahy, Bill Gates envisioned himself as a CEO at a very young age, and at every step in his career he took proactive measures to hone the skills he needed to actualize his vision.

I began working closely with Bill Gates in 1983, when I served as Microsoft’s liaison with IBM. At 28 I was just a year older than Bill. Microsoft, like the personal computer industry itself, was gaining traction. Still, with just $50 million in revenue and 250 employees, it was light years away from becoming the $74 billion behemoth it is today.

About two years into my tenure, Steve Ballmer, Bill Gates, and I were on an airplane flying back to Seattle from a successful meeting with IBM in Boca Raton. Bill and Steve were sitting together; I was a few rows forward with an empty seat next to me. In the middle of the flight, Bill came over to sit with me. After briefly talking about our development tools business, he asked me to become the general manager of the group.

I knew what a big deal that was to Bill. He was entrusting me with the company’s legacy. Microsoft got its start back in 1975 when Bill Gates and Paul Allen wrote the first BASIC Interpreter (one of the products in the development tools area) and licensed it to MITS on the first personal computer, the Altair.

By 1985 Microsoft’s product line had blossomed into a number of programming languages, including Assembler, BASIC, C, COBOL, Fortran, and Pascal. But its business had come under fire by an upstart called Borland International. Borland sold more than 500,000 units of Turbo Pascal and became the dominant player in that market, decimating our Pascal business. All of us knew that it was just a matter of time before Borland would launch an assault on our C product as well as on our flagship BASIC.

Putting me in charge of this group meant that Bill had crossed a psychological hurdle that he had wrestled with for a while. He knew that as our businesses evolved, it would be necessary to appoint general managers who could oversee all aspects of product strategy, marketing, and development. This new cadre of leaders would have the skills to formulate business strategy, assess market threats and opportunities, evaluate strategic alternatives, and focus resources on the most productive path.

But there was one problem. It would mean violating what Bill held as almost a sacred principle of leadership. Bill’s name for this violation was the “inverted hierarchy,” a situation in which a technical manager reports to a boss who is less technically qualified. Its very name implies that something is topsy-turvy.

Bill’s reason for respecting the sanctity of the technical hierarchy stemmed from his core belief that the best way to motivate software engineers was to have them supervised by people who were more technically qualified, whom they would learn from and respect. This model had worked extremely well for Microsoft in the decade since its inception.

Bill had begun to rethink this approach a year earlier, when he created two divisions—the Applications Division and the Systems Division—each core to Microsoft’s business at the time. He put his trusted college friend Steve Ballmer in charge of the Systems Division, while Bill led the Applications Division himself. Creating a business unit for our development tools business meant pushing the inverted hierarchy down one more level. While Bill knew of the risks involved, he could also see the competitive landscape unfolding with Borland. If he did not act, Borland would wreak havoc when it invaded Microsoft’s turf of C and BASIC.

When I look back, I now understand the intuitive leap of faith that Bill took to make this move. Technical excellence was at the core of Microsoft’s competitive strategy, and its software engineers were Microsoft’s crown jewel. Now Bill would need to give up a key aspect of his leadership model that had driven the company’s success for its first decade.

I would observe numerous other examples of Bill’s growth as a leader as we continued to work together over the next several years. One such example came as we were preparing the launch plans for our new BASIC and C products in 1987, launches that would leapfrog Borland with potentially game-changing innovations.

Part of our plan was to tap into the energy of computer user groups, whose members were key influencers in the fledgling market for development tools. Knowing how much excitement Steve Jobs generated when he unveiled the Macintosh in 1984 at the Boston Computer Society, I envisioned Bill as our keynote speaker. I figured we could easily draw 1,500 people at a launch event, quickly building momentum.

We were well into our launch planning, and I noticed that Bill had not yet agreed to speak. His reluctance was puzzling to me. I wondered, What are his concerns? What could possibly be holding him back? To me this was such an obvious strategy. Bill was a brilliant speaker. He had a unique way of combining clarity of message, eloquence of delivery, and passion, with a nice dollop of humor.

Bill and I would meet informally for brainstorming sessions from time to time, so at one meeting I finally asked him about it. His concerns seemed to center around Q&A: What if someone asked a question to which he didn’t know the answer?

I tried to encourage him. I told him that he was a very effective speaker, and I could not imagine a single question he could not answer. Also, our lead technical guru would be sitting in the front row in case there was a need for further elaboration.

I guess that small measure of reassurance was enough. Bill agreed to speak, and we introduced our new C product at the Boston Computer Society in front of more than 1,700 people. Of course Bill gave a magnificent speech. The Q&A went well, too. On one question, Bill looked tentatively in our direction, as if to check himself, but he had already given a solid answer and there was no need to say anything more. The launch was a huge success, as was the launch of our new BASIC when Bill spoke to the Philadelphia user group several weeks later. Microsoft would go on to defeat Borland and regain its dominance in the market.

I would never again talk to Bill about the concerns he expressed that day. There was no need; he had successfully crossed the threshold. But now, thinking about the episode many years later, I remember how many steps Bill took to come up to speed on our products before the launch. By the multitude of questions he had fired off via e-mail, it was clear that he had thoroughly pored over all the technical material he had requested. By the time he spoke, he had taken the time to fully prepare himself to answer almost anything.

Three Defining Elements of Leadership Struggle

Struggle occurs when a difficult or complex situation arises that presents some challenge or adversity. The details can vary considerably—from beginning a new job or confronting a major disappointment to facing a difficult decision or managing an unexpected external event—but in all examples there are three fundamental conditions that determine the nature of the struggle and serve as its defining elements: change, tensions, and being out of balance.

Defining Elements of Struggle

image

Change

Change stands at the heart of leadership struggle. Every struggle is triggered by some type of change. Perhaps a leader initiates that change by envisioning a new direction for the organization; struggle may emerge from forces that stand in opposition to that vision. In other cases change may be imposed on a leader by a new set of enterprise-related circumstances caused by loss of key personnel, financial constraints, competitive pressures, or some other setback. Large-scale changes such as economic recession or cultural upheaval may produce more-serious, long-term consequences.

External change, whether desired or not, always carries with it seeds of opportunity and growth. The struggle may come from discerning the best way to take advantage of those opportunities or how to do so with limited resources.

Even when change is welcome, struggle is often a natural byproduct. A move to a new job or company can be exciting, yet it requires a step outside the comfort zone into a puzzling new world that has yet to be comprehended much less mastered.

In still other cases, change comes from deep within a leader’s inner world. As the heart and the mind expand to take in new ideas, feelings, and perspectives, struggle comes from the process of clarifying newly emerging values and identity.

In Anne Mulcahy’s story, change is the central theme on multiple fronts. Xerox needed to dramatically alter its course; otherwise it would spin into bankruptcy. The industry was also changing, opening a door of opportunity to capitalize on the emergence of large-scale commercial color printing. Finally, Mulcahy herself needed to change and grow as a leader to rise to the challenge.

The Bill Gates stories I’ve shared can also be understood in the context of his audacious vision of change. When he founded Microsoft in 1975 at age 19, he boldly envisioned that there would be a computer on every desk and in every home and that every computer would run Microsoft software. During my five years at Microsoft, his energies centered on actualizing this dream. At a company meeting in late 1987, Bill announced that we were about halfway there. Hearing this I made a mental note that the year 2000 would carry some significance. As it turned out, that was the year that Bill elevated Steve Ballmer to be the second CEO of Microsoft, freeing Bill to eventually embark on his new journey as full-time philanthropist. In this new role, Bill would turn his attention to bringing about a new wave of societal changes and innovations, ranging from education and health care to energy and global development.

Tensions

The process of change creates a natural set of tensions, the second defining element of leadership struggle. Chapter 4 offers a detailed look at the four tension points that grow out of struggle. These tension points stem from individual and institutional traditions (past) and aspirations (future) as well as (outward) relationships and (inward) identity.

Being out of Balance

The third element of leadership struggle is that change and its ensuing tensions throw a leader off balance. Sometimes the imbalance is felt in subtle ways: a quiet voice, a nagging concern in the leader’s gut, or reluctance or procrastination of an important task. Sometimes the fears are deeper, the emotions more powerful. A leader may lose confidence and feel the weight of the world on his or her shoulders. Some individuals remain cool and collected at work and unleash all their frustration on their families when they get home. Still others may vent their stress in self-defeating behaviors like gambling or drinking, all the while denying that a problem exists.

One female leader shared a harrowing experience while working as a brand manager at a major consumer products company: “It was so stressful. My hair started falling out. I didn’t realize it was stress. All I knew was I could see my scalp in the mirror when I brushed my teeth. It was hard. It was really hard. It was joyless.”

Other leaders had these recollections:

image “It was incredibly difficult. If I had to name the emotions, I would say anger, hurt, and betrayal were right on top.”

image “Fear. I had fear. I had anger. I think I went through everything. I had sadness.”

image “Frustration. You don’t feel like your voice is being heard anymore. And I had a very influential voice before.”

image “There were periods when I would be sleep deprived. And it’s really hard to deal with pressure when you are sleep deprived.”

image “I didn’t have peace. When your job is extra stressful, you are always thinking about it. Your mind is preoccupied. You start to focus on that, and you keep thinking about it: How can I make it better? How can I fix it? How can I change? Is there a way out? Are there any other possibilities? You start questioning and asking all these questions. If it’s giving you so much stress that it’s affecting the rest of your life, it’s not good. That’s what I call not having peace.”

An important note: A leader may be out of balance without actually being aware that he or she is out of balance. Very often family members, friends, life partners, and colleagues are more keenly aware of the imbalance than is the one going through the struggle. Other people’s willingness and courage to confront someone they care about, and that person’s willingness to listen, can be major steps in resolving the struggle. A leader’s acknowledgment and awareness of being out of balance is central to regaining balance and becoming centered again.

Playing Out Struggle: Scripts

Leaders respond to the change, tension, and intense emotions of their struggles in different ways. I have identified six scripts that describe different progressions in a struggle episode. By understanding these scripts, leaders gain the agility to shift course midstream or even to proactively select a script in advance, circumventing problems that might otherwise have surfaced. Here is a brief introduction to each of the scripts, which we explore in more detail in upcoming stories.

Script #1: Proactive Reinvention

In the proactive-reinvention script, leaders recognize that strategies that may have worked in the past are no longer effective. Reinvention—the willingness to start anew with a fresh perspective—is required in order to forge new strategies that are more adaptive to the current circumstances. For example, Bill Gates reinvented a crucial aspect of his leadership model when he accepted the need for an “inverted hierarchy.” He also proactively took steps to overcome his fears, agreeing to assume the important role of product spokesperson at user group events during Microsoft’s battle for market share with Borland.

Script #2: Stumble, Recover, and Learn

After making mistakes due to inexperience, leaders who follow the stumble/recover/learn script recognize those errors and take appropriate corrective action. They also strive to repair any relationships that were damaged along the way and vow never again to repeat the pattern. This was Anne Mulcahy’s script, which began when she declared Xerox’s business model unsustainable on an investor conference call in October 2000.

Script #3: Burnout

Passionate leaders with bold ideas may enthusiastically charge ahead in new situations, all fired up to do whatever it takes to realize their vision. But as the burnout script progresses, they encounter stakeholders who do not share their enthusiasm or their vision. These hard-charging leaders are often so convinced that their vision is superior that they fail to take the time to fully understand and appreciate anyone else’s point of view. Consequently, when their colleagues have very different ideas, the stage is set for conflict. All too often relationships are soured and enemies are made. Yet instead of stepping back to consider their role in the conflict, such leaders tend to blame others, whom they clearly see as wrong. Inevitably, their past actions restrict their future options, and they find themselves trapped in situations in which they have little control. They not only feel drained of physical and emotional energy but fail to realize how their attitude and behavior drain the energy of others as well. Ultimately, they either leave in exhaustion or are fired. This script played out for Steve Jobs during his first tenure at Apple.

Script #4: Transcending Constraint

In the transcending-constraint script, leaders initially see tremendous obstacles ahead but feel incapable of surmounting them due to external constraints. As their adaptive energy kicks in, however, they begin reimagining the situation, revealing strategies and options that had previously escaped their awareness. This is how Rita Marshall’s script plays out in the next section.

Script #5: Mission Impossible

At first the mission-impossible script feels similar to the transcending-constraint script. The difference is, no matter how creative and dedicated these leaders may be, every road toward resolution comes to a dead end. Ultimately, they are forced to accept that there is no way to realize their vision and aspirations. The constraints are simply insurmountable. If leaving is not an option, they are reduced to hunkering down while trying to maintain some degree of balance.

Script #6: Confronting Failure

In the confronting-failure script, leaders are forced to acknowledge that things did not work out according to their plans and expectations. In a word, they have failed. The struggle is finding ways to remain resilient as they pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and move on while still learning from the experience. This was the Steve Jobs script after he lost the power struggle at Apple in 1985.

A Lifelong Journey

Rita Marshall, who attempted to lead the PR function in an advertising agency, most closely follows the transcending-constraint script.

Marshall relied on her natural optimism to quickly help her regain her balance. She found the inner strength to search for a creative solution, tapping into the very tensions that were causing her distress. She was concerned about how she could lead with conviction and authenticity when people seemed to doubt she had the expertise to do the job. So she took action to increase her credibility by pursuing professional accreditation in public relations. Achieving this accreditation was a “big deal” to Marshall; it boosted her confidence and provided external validation of her PR expertise to her doubting boss.

Furthermore, Marshall’s sense of isolation was a stressor. While she felt a professional kinship with the people working for her, it was inappropriate and counterproductive to confide in them. She felt her boss was unable to provide her with the support she needed, so Marshall proactively created an external support system. First she tapped into her family, but soon she found camaraderie at PR professional associations and peer women’s support groups. Ultimately, she found a mentor who had the experience and the wisdom she was seeking.

These actions gave Marshall the confidence she needed to improve her effectiveness and transcend the constraints she may have initially felt were insurmountable. Over time she learned to appreciate the differences between advertising and public relations and saw how they could work together rather than in opposition.

Marshall and I spoke again about a year after our initial interview. After working for a long time within an advertising culture, she had decided to build on her knowledge and experience by starting her own PR firm. This did not surprise me. Now in her forties, Marshall had reached what author Gail Sheehy has called “the age of mastery,” a time when people’s professional skills solidify and they feel a sense of confidence in what they can contribute to the world.

But there was also a twist in Marshall’s story. For months she had been watching her 19-year-old son slide deeper into drug addiction. She and her family were entering a new chapter in their lives as they learned to cope with this difficult challenge. Marshall shared with me an essay she wrote that was published in a local newspaper:

Our son’s addiction called into consideration my beliefs and values. It had been a long time since faith and spirituality played a significant role in my life, but if ever there was a good time to reconnect, this was it.

Some things remain a struggle, but I embrace the journey for what it is and choose my actions and perspective. There have been some incredibly bright spots, including meeting people whom I genuinely admire but might never have met, developing more meaningful relationships with friends and family, reconnecting with a higher power, and engaging some of my gifts, including advocacy and writing.

One of the most remarkable findings from my research was how people’s perceptions of struggle evolve over time. Leaders I interviewed often recalled stories that had occurred two, three, or even four decades earlier. As these leaders reflected on the impact that their struggles had on their lives, they acknowledged that the passage of time had given them a broader perspective.

Remember the brand manager who was so stressed that her hair was falling out? She got through her ordeal and eventually became the CEO of a different company. Here is how she reflected on the totality of her experiences: “From my perspective, every single bump in the road, slap in the face, knee in the back—every single one of those things was a fabulous gift. You get through it, and you stop and say, ‘That hurt like hell, what was that?’ And you say, ‘Oh, my gosh, I am in this bright, sunny place as a result.’ There isn’t a single one of those things that I don’t reflect on as a gift of some form.”

In the midst of a major crisis, it may be hard to think of such difficult challenges as gifts. But with the healing that comes with time, it is natural for people to alter their perceptions. This process becomes self-reinforcing. The more we think of bumps, slaps, and knees in the back as gifts, or at least as opportunities for growth and learning, the more capably we can handle whatever life sends our way.

In the words of Rita Marshall, “I don’t think any of us wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I hope I have a struggle today.’” Still there are times when struggle is inevitable. At these times leaders need to recognize what is unfolding around them, adapt their energy accordingly, and make informed, well-reasoned choices. Indeed adaptive energy is a vital and necessary force that leaders need to harness if they are to realize their aspirations. This becomes clearer in the next chapter through the leadership examples of Kate Herzog, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs.

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Endorsements

What People Are Saying about Leadership and the Art of Struggle

"A very fresh and inspiring perspective that constructively embraces the natural tensions that all leaders encounter every day. I heartily recommend it to any leader who aspires to lead and contribute more fully."

-Douglas R. Conant, former President, CEO, and Director, Campbell Soup Company, and coauthor of the New York Times bestseller TouchPoints

"Steven courageously confronts the element of struggle, which is frequently overlooked in all the leadership hoopla. It's time we had an open and honest conversation about this integral and vital aspect of leadership."

-Ken Melrose, former CEO, Toro

"Steven guides you on a journey that can be deeply fulfilling as well as enlightening. I recommend this book for any leader who wants to engage more authentically and constructively in a complex and ever-changing world."

-Mary Brainerd, CEO, HealthPartners

"Leadership and the Art of Struggle contains compelling stories of great leaders who have struggled with various facets of their leadership responsibility. It offers practical advice and tools to help you deal more effectively with the inevitable struggles of leadership."

-Trudy Rautio, President and CEO, Carlson

"If you are leading an organization of any kind today or desire to lead one in the future, you need to read this book."

-Frank Russomanno, former CEO, Imation

"Steven Snyder's Leadership and the Art of Struggle is the must-read leadership book of the year. It is one of the most intelligent, revealing, and practical books on the subject I have ever read. It confronts a vital truth about leadership: that challenge is the crucible for greatness and that these adversities introduce us to ourselves. Buy this book immediately, read it with a sense of urgency, and apply it with the commitment of a disciple. You and those you work with will benefit greatly when you do."

-Jim Kouzes, coauthor of the bestselling The Leadership Challenge

"Steven Snyder covers all the bases from channeling your energy to managing conflict, including a great segment about overcoming your leadership blind spots. Leadership and the Art of Struggle is full of real-life examples of leaders who emerged from tough times better and stronger than before. This encouraging book is a must-read!"

-Ken Blanchard, coauthor of The One Minute Manager and Great Leaders Grow

"The leadership journey is rewarding but definitely not easy. Leadership and the Art of the Struggle gives you clear and compelling advice on transforming pitfalls into possibilities."

-Jodee Kozlak, Executive Vice President, Human Resources, Target

"Snyder has opened an intriguing and insightful portal into the challenge of leadership. You'll be inspired and invigorated with ideas that you can immediately put into action."

-Kevin Wilde, Chief Learning Officer, General Mills, and author of Dancing with the Talent Stars

"Life in a start-up is chaotic, intense, and unpredictable. Snyder knows this world well and gives you sage advice on how to remain grounded, focused, and energized. This is a book that every entrepreneur or would-be entrepreneur should read."

-Michael Gorman, Managing Director, Split Rock Partners

"Snyder boldly tackles a subject that every leader needs to master. Sometimes leadership is a struggle, and these are the times that really put us to the test. This insightful book will teach you how to thrive during life's most challenging moments."

-Marshall Goldsmith, New York Times bestselling author of Mojo and What Got You Here Won't Get You There

"This book resonates to the core. It gives us grounding and offers precise practices for locating our work deep in the soul. Steven makes the dive into the waters of purposeful living and leading deep and attractive. What a delightful dive!"

-Richard Leider, bestselling author of The Power of Purpose and coauthor of Repacking Your Bags

"The French writer Albert Camus tells us, ˜In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was within me an invincible summer.' Snyder wisely observes that we can best strike a blow against tragedy and disappointment by using them as inspiration to make a positive difference in the lives of others through our personal leadership."

--Marilyn Carlson Nelson, Chairman, Carlson

"This is the right book for these times. Leadership has become more difficult in the chaotic world we live in; Steven acknowledges that and draws on his own deep experience and the lessons learned of others to help any new, aspiring, or well-worn leader!"

-Beverly Kaye, founder of Career Systems International and coauthor of Love 'Em or Lose 'Em and Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go

"Leadership and the Art of Struggle deserves to be a leadership classic! Snyder brilliantly charts a course to strengthen ourselves through the important crucibles of challenge and adversity. If you want to build more authentic leadership in yourself and others, get this life-changing book!"

-Kevin Cashman, Senior Partner, Korn/Ferry International, and bestselling author of The Pause Principle and Leadership from the Inside Out

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