Leadership and the Art of Struggle Review - A New Book by Steven Snyder


In Leadership and the Art of Struggle: How Great Leaders Grow Through Challenge and Adversity, the author uses real life leadership struggles from some of the most accomplished business leaders.  He also draws you in with his own real life experiences with working directly with Bill Gates during the early years of Microsoft.   These stories are so interesting and provide great strategic details for embracing struggles.  Through their hardships and the outcome of their decisions we can learn to be better leaders.  The author believes that failure is a great teacher.  This completely resonated with me, as when I think back on my 'great moments' in my 20+ corporate career, the ones that stand out are when I failed.  And more importantly how I bounced back.  I used to think it was just me being hard on myself like so many of my peers and leaders I coach. But the struggles are stores that guide one to a better path, remove barriers from our clouded thinking and open our eyes to possibilities we may have been closed off to if all ran smoothly with out any bumps.

In all of the real-life stories they tell about their most defining experience being a major struggle rather than a great success moment.  One example of this is when he asked Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan’s chair and CEO, what his defining experience was.  He replied instantly, “I got fired…by my mentor of 22 years.”  Learning from that experience, Damon bounced back and became the world’s leading financial services CEO.  The author states that, “only in acknowledging our own flaws and vulnerabilities can we become authentic leaders who empower people to perform to the best of their abilities.”

He talks about change being the heart of all leadership struggles.  This causes a sense of being out of balance and tension.  He provides what he calls, Playing out Struggle: Scripts.  These six scripts will provide the leader with ways to change course and prevent problems that might have surfaced.  Here are some nuggets that connected with me (and that I wish I had more awareness of earlier in my career!)

Script #1: Proactive Reinvention – leaders recognize that strategies that may have worked in the past are no longer effective.

Script #2:  Stumble, Recover, and Learn – After making mistakes due to inexperience, leaders will recognize those errors and take appropriate corrective action.

Script #3:  Burnout – Passionate leaders with bold ideas may enthusiastically charge ahead in new situations.  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.

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.

Script #5:  Mission Impossible – Ultimately, they are forced to accept that there is no way to realize their vision and aspirations.

Script#6:  Confronting Failure – Leaders are forced to acknowledge that things did not work out according to their plans and expectations.  In a word, they have failed.

The author provides examples throughout the book of these scripts.  This man knows a lot of people, which makes reading about their stories so fascinating.

I also really love the chapter on Illuminate Blind Spots.  This is a big topic with my coaching clients.  We cannot change what we don't notice, and unveiling blind spots are both painful, yet a gift that unleashes new options.  He quotes Bill Gates on learning about the experience blind spot.  In the book The Road Ahead, Gates says, "Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose."

I have seen this in action through out my career.  And the minute I got a little too big for my britches in one role many years ago, I learned quickly that was not a recipe for success.

I will most certainly be recommending this book to my clients!  In fact, I just did! There are so many gems in this one.












About Steven Snyder:

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.

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