Encore Review: Leadership and The Art of Struggle …

Leadership and Struggle 1Originally published March 12, 2013 and still true today:

Leadership and The Art of Struggle is all about the leader’s struggle and even failure … and how we must experience and learn from our most challenging moments to grow toward effective leadership.

ME:  You mean I don’t have to be a perfect leader …?  That’s a reliefSmile.

Works for me, especially the idea that a leader cannot avoid and should not ignore their struggles and failures … those times when things are not going well, when our actions do not produce the results we want … when we totally screw up and cannot hide the results.

Steven Snyder knows leadership at a very lofty level, with experience in Microsoft and at his own company, combined with a thoughtful eye for the nuances of an individual’s leadership journey.  His long-term research into the leadership journey has provided a solid basis for his approach.

Snyder takes aim directly at the myth of failure and struggle as negative aspects of the leadership experience.   He identifies what he calls “leadership struggle” as a core component of leadership development. 

He also discusses the nature of a leader’s struggle:

“ …three fundamental conditions that determine the nature of the struggle and serve as its defining elements:  change, tensions, and being out of balance.”

I found many things to like about this book …In no particular order, here are some:


Snyder draws on mindfulness and emotional intelligence research, as well as some of the current knowledge about neuroscience.   The book contains references to a large array of knowledge from various disciplines. 

While Snyder has much to offer in terms of valid research which supports his ideas, he also consistently conveys the importance of paying attention to the metaphysical aspects of our leadership and our humanity.   This is a very human approach to leadership.


Snyder connects Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow concepts. which he calls automatic and reflective thinking, with earlier leadership narrative work by Joe Badaracco of the Harvard Business School.  In the process, he creates a model for understanding and learning from our challenges.

He knows how to weave concepts together in a most engaging fashion.


Snyder’s book is “chock full” of leadership stories from some very accomplished folks with names like Gates and Jobs, along with some others maybe not as well known, but leaders at the loftier levels. 

Snyder does a nice job of relating the stories of individual leaders to the models he uses, especially in showing us how one or more of six “scripts” are consistently reflected in a leader’s history.

“The more self-aware you are, the more capable you will be a adaptively channeling your behavior.”  


I have not yet really discussed other aspects of Snyder’s model, which include those six “scripts” or ways in which we tend to approach and live our leadership lives,  and the idea of “adaptive energy

“Adaptive energy is the force that propels you to reach your dreams … aligns your actions both with the external criteria necessary for success and with your inner values and principles.”

I also want to say more about a chart on page 47, which clearly and succinctly details the difference between fixed mindsets and growth mindsets.  Tersely put, a leader either sees their abilities and characteristics as fixed and relatively unchangeable or as plastic, elastic, and respondent to learning. 

I have experienced these concepts in myself and others throughout my working career.  Based on my own experiences and reinforced by Snyder’s book, one of these mind-sets is much more effective than the other.  

… But these ideas are for another post on another day of this exciting week.

Enjoying yet another very useful and enjoyable leadership book in the Heartland ….


Disclaimer:  As is often the case, I received a copy of Leadership and the Art of Struggle for review prior to its launch during the week of March 11, 2013.  I am free to like or dislike the book.  I happen to really like this high quality publication.  As is often the case, I plan to purchase several copies to share with some folks who need to hear Steven Snyder’s message. 

Steven Snyder, Ph.D., is the founder of the Snyder Leadership Group, an organizational consulting firm. An innovator in thought leadership, Snyder has developed the breakthrough concepts introduced in Leadership and the Art of Struggle, based on years of leadership studies, intensive research, and data derived from extensive interviews with real-world executives from major corporations. He currently lives with his family in the Minneapolis area, where he remains actively engaged in philanthropy and community service.



Execupundit.com: Monday Morning Advice for Leaders


Quite a list for aspiring leaders this morning over at Execupundit.com: Monday Morning Advice for Leaders.

Personal favorite:

“Before you hammer a change through the organization, use the hammer on your ego and listen to more people.”

If the leaders I know all took this one idea to heart and actually listened more than they try to lead, more positive change would occur … as if by magic.

Enjoying wisdom in the Heartland ….


7 Reasons Leadership May Not Matter …


Pick an issue that you are deeply concerned about and I would guess that it is on this list, in one form or another.

I am somewhat biased, but I see #7 as the most critical item …

We can solve problems related to inequality, economics, culture, and nature, given good and trusted leadership.  However, without trusted leadership, we are screwed … to use the professional term.

Unfortunately, this concern about value-driven leadership dovetails with another issue often discussed in leadership development circles:  Leadership is frequently discounted as a discrete and learnable skill.    I imagine many reasons exist for this, but here are five which I know are part of the general equation:

 1)  Effective leadership often looks easy from the outside . . . 

When something looks easy, many people think it IS easy.  Leadership suffers the same image problem as does other helping professions (yes, I believe that leadership is a helping profession), where true skill comes across as almost casual action.

2)  Many people have no particular experience actually leading others . . .

Without experience, we often use superficial things, like titles or positions, to rate leaders.  If you do not know the complexity involved in influencing others positively, you may not appreciate what goes into the small part of leadership that is directly observed.

3)  Some leaders are poor, but talk a good game . . .

They snow us with charismatic personalities, so we do not think to look more objectively at what they do.  For examples, see “Politician” of any party or persuasion, now or in the past, from this country or elsewhere.  I’m sure other examples exist of poor leaders who get away with it, but this genre is just too perfect an example not to use..

4)  Some leaders are really nice people, which tends to deflect serious analysis of their abilities and performance . . .

Critical thinking is a difficult skill to use most of the time, and when someone appears to be a good person, we tend to give them more slack and benefit of our doubt.  Personality can trump achievement sometimes.

5)  Quick fixes are popular … True leadership is a slow and developmental process . . .

We as a society have little patience for long processes, but enjoy the fantasy that we can just pull something off in a heartbeat.   Leadership is not like public image, which actually can be destroyed in the amount of time it takes to post a YouTube video or a snarky photo with a catchy phrase attached.

6)  Some leaders may be in the wrong place at the wrong time for the wrong reasons . . . 

Leadership is not a “one-size-fits-all” type of ability.  One person may excel at leadership during a crisis and great upheaval, while another can keep up the steady, but lengthy process of maintenance which stabilizes an organization for the long haul.  Tools like the DiSC are of great help in beginning the discussion about different forms of leadership.

7)  Leadership models believed by some may be outdated . . .

For example, with number 2 on the Pew list, some folks at the top of a very small economic tip probably justify their relative wealth by assuming that the “Great Man” theory of leadership is working in their case.  When an increasing number struggle, while a few thrive, those few need to give some reasons why things are the way they are.  

While most serious leadership development folks believe that leadership is a learnable skill, which includes knowledge acquisition combined with mentored experience, some people find it in their own best interests to believe that destiny and birthright plays a larger role.

Tomorrow, I’m going to share some more specific thoughts around value and leadership.   All leadership is NOT created equal and our ethics do matter.

Considering the state of leadership and what needs to happen in the Heartland ….


ToolTime …

“The expectations of life depend upon diligence.  The mechanic that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools.”   Confucius

“A workman is only as good as his tools.”  Anonymous

“Sharpen the saw.”   Stephen Covey

Get the message?  Well, I should hope so … “it’s not a subtle message”, as Greg Kinnear‘s character tells Jack Nicholson‘s character at one point in “As Good As It Gets“.  

The right tools, kept in condition, are essential for most of the tasks we face on an ongoing basis.  

Of course, we could spend the next year talking about what we consider tools.

Some see tools as only the mechanical devises which aid our work.  

Others view formal and informal learning and education in a particular discipline or areas as tools.  

What about our own ability to think critically, solve problems, and make decisions?

What about other people in our circle of influence?  

Would our physical environment be considered a tool, since it can dramatically impact our effectiveness?  

What have I missed that we might include in our list of tools?

Now that we have broadened our perception of tools a tad, we can think about their use in more complexity.   So three questions:  

1)  What tools do you have?  

2)  How do you decide which tools fit which jobs?  

3)  How do you make sure they are ready when you need them?

Scraping the rust off some of my less-used tools in the Heartland ….


Oh, Lord, It’s Hard to be Humble …

… but it may be a real good idea for you as a leader.

Recent research provides support for an idea many of us cherish:  Humble leaders are often more effective.

Uriah Heep, the fictional character shown above, was an early model of the vain and very unhumble worker.   Untrusting and untrustworthy, he felt that he was better than his co-workers and his boss.

I was very well-liked by most of the people who suffered … I mean, worked under my supervision while I was a fledging leader.  The fact that I was personally popular did not help me to become a more effective leader, other than buying me some time to learn about humility and the other aspects of servant leadership.  If I had been unpopular, I would not have been tolerated for long enough to learn much of anything.

Much current research indicates that humility is an essential characteristic for successful leadership.

Jim Collins talks about this in “Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve.”

Gywn Teatro touches on a similar theme in A Case for Being A Nice Boss“.


Forget the Jack Welch and Albert J. “Chainsaw Al” Dunlop leadership models based on a disregard for employees as people and an over-stressing of bottom line measurements, along with a strong tendency to attribute all success to their own actions.

This research indicates that you can be nice, self-effacing, and yet still get the job done.

Villarica’s article provides a brief overview of research done through the University of Buffalo‘s school of management that indicates three main behaviors for humble leaders:

1)  Lead by example 

2)  Admit and learn from their mistakes

3)  Recognize follower’s strengths

All three require a sense of self which transcends ego and power.  

The humble leader knows that the success of the team, the group, and the organization depend on the work of all.  The realistic leader understands that the leaders’s contribution may be the least valuable of all in attaining the goal, at least in many ways.

Being effective, on the other hand, is essential.  You can even trade off being well-liked for being more effective.  Too often, the most effective leadership behavior will not be the most liked behavior.

Here’s what some of the leading world religions have to say about being humble: 

To know when one does not know is best. To think one knows when one does not know is a dire disease.     From TaoismTao Te Ching 71

Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves.   From Christianity  Philippians 2.3

 Be of an exceedingly humble spirit, for the end of man is the worm.   From Judaism. Mishnah, Abot 4.4

Be humble, be harmless, Have no pretension, Be upright, forbearing; Serve your teacher in true obedience, Keeping the mind and body in cleanness, Tranquil, steadfast, master of ego, Standing apart from the things of the senses, Free from self; Aware of the weakness in mortal nature.  From Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 13.7-8

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.  From Christianity  Matthew 5.5 Harithah ibn Wahb al-Khuza`i tells how he heard the Prophet say, “Have I not taught you how the inhabitants of Paradise will be all the humble and the weak, whose oaths God will accept when they swear to be faithful? Have I not taught you how the inhabitants of hell will be all the cruel beings, strong of body and arrogant?”   From Islam. Hadith of Bukhari

If you are lucky enough to combine a true sense of humility, being well-liked, and are a highly effective leader, congratulations are in order, because that’s about as good as it gets.

The Takeaway:  Being better liked is NOT a valuable indicator for a leader.    Being respected because you are respectful of your followers is invaluable.

Trying real hard not to keep humming that country song in the Heartland ….