9 Most Common Challenges Leaders Will Face

9 Most Common Challenges of Leadership

Several years ago I got into hiking and started working on a challenge called “South Beyond 6000” which is hitting all forty mountain summits in excess of 6,000 feet on the East Coast of the United States. I remember the first time I summited a mountain (Black Balsam Knob) and got a 360 degree panoramic view for hundreds of miles. It was mesmerizing, and unlike anything I had ever seen. But the few hours before that my legs were sore, I was sweating, thirsty, and tired. But once I got to the summit, all of that went away. And in a way, leadership is a similar journey. Leaders will face numerous challenges, but the view from the summit is worth it.

The most common challenges leaders will face are effective communication, building and sustaining trust, managing change, decision-making under pressure, managing conflict, inspiring and motivating your teammates, balancing work and self care, embracing diversity and inclusion, and continuing your path of personal growth. Managing and overcoming these challenges requires remarkable resilience, poise, and calm.

Let’s dive into each, because some of these have a slightly different meaning than its face value would imply.

Effective Communication

Communication is the cornerstone of successful leadership. Leaders must articulate their vision clearly, listen actively to their team members, and foster open and honest dialogue. Miscommunication can lead to misunderstandings, conflict, and decreased productivity. Developing strong communication skills through workshops, courses, and regular feedback sessions can significantly improve a leader’s ability to connect with their team.

Building and Sustaining Trust

Whereas effective communication is a skill you can practice and improve over a weekend, building authentic and lasting trust takes time. Trust is the foundation of any productive team. Establishing trust takes time and consistency. Leaders must demonstrate integrity, transparency, and reliability to gain the trust of their team members. Encouraging open communication, acknowledging mistakes, and delivering on promises are crucial elements in building and sustaining trust within the team.

Trust is incredibly hard to earn, and can be lost easily. Keep the following Warren Buffet quote in the back of your mind.

“It can take 20 years to build your reputation, and five minutes to ruin it.”

~Warren Buffet~

Managing Change

Change is inevitable and is, ironically, the thing that never changes. Change will always come, and what worked great yesterday might be a detriment to business or operations today. This section would better be titled, “managing people’s response to change.” Humans are funny. They love the comfort of the familiar and change poses a threat to that comfort. Thus, having empathy for your teammates which might be spooked by change is very important. This is also where trust and clear communication can help go a long way to assuage people’s fears about organizational change!

Decision-Making Under Pressure

One of the worst things a leader can do is experience paralysis by analysis. Leaders have to be what former Navy Seal and author Jocko Willink calls “default aggressive.” That does not mean to always pursue an aggressive course of action. It means to aggressively pursue the choice you make. Sitting idly by on the sidelines while things crash and burn around you is not an option, it’s a sure path to failure. Instead, do as Jocko recommends. Stay calm, look around, and make a call. Being decisive and taking responsibility for outcomes, whether positive or negative, is a hallmark of effective leadership.

Managing Conflict

Where there are humans, there will also be conflict. Especially when a group is trying to move into a new space and solve new problems. Stress, new challenges, and uncertainty will cause people to be volatile. But conflict can be good, especially if it’s healthy conflict by passionate people who disagree on what’s best to accomplish the mission. The absolute worst thing a leader can do is ignore conflict or problem employees. Be prepared to utilize skills learned from your other challenges; trust, effective communication, empathy, and making decisions under pressure!

Inspiring and Motivating the Team

Inspiration and motivation are essential for maintaining a high-performing team. Leaders must recognize there is not a one-size fits all solution for motivating team members. Everyone is different with different with different motivations and guiding principles. Leaders must understand what motivates each team member individually and foster a positive work environment that encourages growth and recognition. Leading by example and celebrating team achievements are powerful ways to inspire and motivate the entire group.

Balancing Work and Self Care

Ironically, as I’m writing this my wife is telling me “you need to break away from your work and eat something.” Leaders often face the challenge of maintaining a healthy work-life balance. The demands of leadership can be all-consuming, leading to burnout and decreased effectiveness. To overcome this challenge, leaders should prioritize self-care, delegate tasks when possible, and set clear boundaries between work and personal life. Remember, there’s a reason airlines tell you to put on your oxygen mask first before helping others.

Embracing Diversity and Inclusion

In diverse teams, leaders must embrace and promote inclusivity. This challenge has less to do with racial, gender, or cultural diversity but more to do with diversity and inclusion of different ideas and opinions. Strive to create what Ray Dalio in his groundbreaking book “Principles” calls an “idea meritocracy.” The good ideas win out, regardless of someone’s rank or position in the organization! Overcoming biases and creating a culture of equality can be challenging, but it is vital for fostering innovation and creativity. Leaders should actively seek diverse perspectives, address unconscious biases, and provide equal opportunities for all team members to thrive.

Continue to Work on Personal Growth

Even experienced leaders need to continually develop their skills to stay relevant and effective. Remember, your skills have a shelf life and will expire. Just by nature of the shifting business landscape ensures your skills today will eventually be irrelevant. Continuous learning, attending leadership seminars, seeking mentorship, and seeking feedback are valuable ways to enhance leadership capabilities and overcome new challenges. Make a commitment to always learn and grow. The moment you think, “I have this all figured out” is the day you start losing.

So as you’re climbing that leadership mountain, keep in mind you will get thirsty. You will be hot, your legs will be tired. Everything in you will scream to quit and go sit in the shade. But these are the moments which define our character and demonstrate our resolve. There is no growth without resistance! So make sure you keep a healthy perspective on challenges. They are not things thrown in your path to cause you grief. They are there to make you the person and leader you were destined to be.

Erik Murrah

Author, nerd, chess player, artist, business owner, runner, mediocre philosopher, outdoorsman. Creator of the Arise Tribe.

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