Accepting These 6 Painful Truths Will Make You a Better Leader

Leadership is rewarding, when it isn't painful.

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By Brian de Haaff

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It may seem that leaders get all of the glory and share none of the pain. But great leaders know there is more to their work than most people see.

So much of what it takes to be a leader often goes unnoticed -- the hard work that happens behind the scenes and after-hours, and the tough decisions that need to be made.

I know something about that. Leading an entirely distributed team at Aha! is incredibly rewarding. But doing it well can be challenging at times -- especially because we care deeply about our colleagues.

It may not be easy to give honest feedback to people you really care about. It is even harder to part ways, regardless of the situation. I know that I always feel a sense of loss when someone leaves. The real truth is that although leaders experience many joyful moments, there are these moments of disappointment as well.

It is all part of the ongoing learning process that will make you a better leader tomorrow than you are today. Anyone who aspires to leadership must push on and allow challenging times to continually shape them. Here are some of the tough lessons that every great leader will learn:

1. Trust is not automatic.

Trust does not come along with the job title. Do not make the mistake of assuming trust will occur naturally over time -- or that being likable is the same as being trusted. You will realize that you can spend your time and energy trying to be liked or you can invest in being a trustworthy and effective leader. But you cannot do both.

2. Kindness is underrated.

You may think that your leadership position gives you license to say or do whatever you want. After all, you are there to lead, not to make friends -- right? But you will quickly realize how much havoc you can cause with a single careless comment.

Related: How Your Leadership Skills Will Determine Your Company Culture

Showing kindness may be an underrated value, but it is an important and necessary one. Conscious kindness can transform how you lead your team and send a clear message for how they should treat each other.

3. Words are meaningless.

Anyone can talk and share their grand plans. But your words are meaningless unless you follow through with action. So get busy working on goals and what you already committed to doing. Once you prove that you can pay off your words with hard work, others will see that you get things done. This will inspire your team to support your plan and to be part of making it a success.

4. Status quo is safe.

This truth is especially tough for leaders who join a new organization. You may come in gung-ho with your fresh ideas, ready to light a fire -- only to find that others are more comfortable maintaining the status quo than embracing new challenges. You may need to evaluate your team and make some tough choices about who can break free from the "minimum viable work" mentality and strive to keep getting better.

Related: 5 Sure-Fire Ways to Improve Your Leadership Skills

5. Power trips happen.

Is your ego is under wraps? Perhaps. But power can go to your head if you are not constantly vigilant. And even still you will have moments where ego bests humility. When it happens, great leaders do not dwell there. They invest in a daily effort to be humble and consider the work that each person is contributing. Practice putting the needs of the team before your own. The less time you spend thinking about yourself, the better.

6. Not everyone stays.

You do your best to earn trust, follow through on your plans and treat others with kindness. Yet this does not ensure that everyone will stay in your organization. This is true whether you are joining an existing team as a new leader or building a team from scratch. People will leave -- some for personal reasons, and others because they cannot accept change or challenges. Your job is to accept it, ensure that the person's departure does not disrupt others, and move forward.

Related: Scale Your Leadership Skills as You Scale Your Company

There is no escaping the challenges that go along with leading others. But difficulties can bring transformation. The good news is that once you experience these truths, it is easier to lead from a position of confidence.

Take it from me -- leading a team can be one of the most rewarding aspects of your life. If you can embrace the process of helping others realize their potential, you will realize your own.

The sum of your experiences -- the good along with the downright uncomfortable -- will mold you into a better leader and version of yourself. And that is a meaningful life purpose.

Brian de Haaff

Founder and CEO

Brian de Haaff seeks business and wilderness adventures. He has been the founder or early employee of six cloud-based software companies and is the CEO of Aha!, makers of product roadmap software. His last two companies were acquired by Aruba Networks and Citrix.

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