Lead through Suffering

When I used to lead my own department, I found that the best way to become a trusted leader among your team was to be willing to take upon yourself the hardest tasks and the most challenging situations.

If there was something that had to be done in the late hours of the night, I was the one willing to do it — I was the first that would step up to the plate and volunteer, even though I was the “boss”. And by doing this consistently, my team saw this example time after time again, and eventually they started stepping up themselves and volunteering as well — because they saw the sacrifice that their “leader” was willing to make, and they began striving for those same things.

We didn’t have people grumbling about having to come in and work over the weekend, because it was a voluntary thing. In fact, it was a badge of honor that meant you were willing to submit yourselves to that challenge — to that suffering “on behalf of your team”. And the people who bought into being a part of a flourishing and unified team grew and thrived — and the few who were not compatible with the system (because of their own lack of motivation and commitment) were easily noticed in time and encouraged to go find their success somewhere else more compatible.

Like a good gardener, a leader must have enough vision to cultivate fruitful plants and eliminate weeds. Without leadership vision and understanding, the workers will perish while the thieves work the system.

This was a great tool in building a strong team that was dedicated to helping each other and to working together towards common goals — instead of being divided and divisive and clawing in tearing at each other (seeking to climb the ladder on the backs of others) — or complaining and grumbling about the burden of the work environment (ungrateful, self absorbed narcissists expecting everything should be easy for them).

Yes, it is true —

Very few people want to truly suffer. It isn’t comfortable, it isn’t fun, and it isn’t enjoyable in and of itself. But a willingness to suffer — even in eagerness to suffer — on behalf of a cause/purpose is a powerful, powerful leadership tool.

Leadership is not just pointing to what needs to be done and saying “you go do this” and “do it this way”. Leadership is instilling values and goals and a common unity amongst your people that ensures that they’re willing to work as a team towards those common goals.

So if you are seeking to be a leader and not just a boss, I encourage you to strive to suffer well. Don’t let your team see you grumbling are complaining about the next challenge, but instead let them see you eager to face the next challenge — eager to face the next thing that might seem unjust — eager to face the next suffering — eager to let them know that you would rather be 1st in line for the suffering rather than at the back of the line. If you do this you will build a powerful team around you — not just behind you following orders, but around you charging into the thick of battle willingly and eagerly.

And this isn’t some amazing manipulation or game that I’ve come up with on my own. This is an example that I’ve seen played out in the greatest leader. It is something that I am learning to emulate. I don’t get it right all the time, and I can be found at times grumbling or complaining — or not looking forward to the next challenge in suffering. But I’m learning to recognize the value of suffering, and that THIS IS KEY to being a LEADER.

A leader who has suffered can share his experience to help his people understand. A leader who understands the value in suffering well can help spread a good work ethic that overcomes selfish tendencies and fosters true teamwork.

God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation.
Hebrews 2:10 NLT

The Life Application Study Bible notes for this verse:

How was Jesus made perfect through suffering? Jesus’ suffering made him a perfect leader, or pioneer, of our salvation. Jesus did not need to suffer for his own salvation, because he was God in human form. His perfect obedience (which led him down the road of suffering) demonstrates that he was the complete sacrifice for us. Through suffering, Jesus completed the work necessary for our own salvation. Our suffering can make us more sensitive servants of God. People who have known pain are able to reach out with compassion to others who hurt. If you have suffered, ask God how your experience can be used to help others.

Lord, help us to understand and appreciate the value in suffering well — not that we have some lofty idea of being martyrs for our own glory, but that we would have a willingness to suffer for the glory of God and that it might draw men closer to you. Forgive us for how often we fail you in this regard, and replace our hardened hearts with hearts that desire what you desire. Amen.

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