Why is leadership so painful?

The pain never stops.

If it does, it means you’re finished.

Yes, there may be seasons where the pain is not as intense, where you finally get a chance to catch your breath and relax a tiny bit.  But the pain still lurks in the background, dull but ever-present.  It reminds you that you are still alive.

If I had known the amount of pain I would face as a leader, I would not have had the courage to become one.  Oh, I had heard that leadership wouldn’t be easy.  I can handle difficult – in fact, I thrive on challenges.  But the pain – no one told me that I would have my heart ripped out repeatedly.

Why is leadership so painful?

My background as a registered nurse helps here.  It was my job to help people through their physical, emotional and mental pain as they faced illness and injury.  I learned a lot about how to treat pain, how to help people avoid pain, how to embrace pain.  Pain itself is not a disease – it is an indicator of something deeper.

Pain can indicate that something is broken.

When something inside your body is broken, it sends signals to your brain that IT HURTS!  That is what moves you to take the action to fix it.  The same is true of the team you lead.  When something isn’t working well, you will start seeing the signals of pain.  People start leaving.  They stop responding in the usual way.  Their attitudes change.  The results they used to get are no longer achieved.  It is your job to recognize those signals and work to discover what is broken on your team.


Pain can indicate something new.

It is no secret that childbirth is painful.  Despite bringing a new, beautiful life into the world, pain blocks out almost all joy for a season.  When you lead your team in a new direction, when your team gains a new member, when your team changes leadership, there is pain.  What you do to help your team through the pain determines how long it will last.  If you lead them to expect change, grieve the loss of the old but celebrate the new, their season on pain will be short, and joy will replace it as they embrace what is new.


Pain can indicate healing.

The moment you wake up from surgery, you are not yet free of pain.  Breaking a bone hurts even after it has been reset.  Pain indicates healing that is occurring on levels we cannot see.  Your team may go through residual pain, even after the initial problems have been resolved.  You can help them understand that the pain is temporary, healthy, and that wholeness awaits on the other side.


Pain can indicate growth.

Do you remember waking up in the night as a child, arms and legs aching?  Your mother likely soothed you with hugs and kisses and the words, “It’s just growing pains.”  Growth produces changes that start on a microscopic level and eventually reveal visible results.  Growth hurts.  You desire for your team to grow.  You’re not satisfied with mediocrity.  So be ready for the pain that will undoubtedly come with the changes you make to allow for that growth.


When you no longer have the capacity to feel pain, you are no longer alive.  Do you find leadership painful?  It’s because your team is alive.  And with life comes potential.  Don’t wish away the pain.  Embrace it, and be ready to find yourself leading from the next level.


10 thoughts on “Why is leadership so painful?”

  1. Tiffany says:

    This is a really interesting post. I agree that I too have had these moments as an aspiring leader. I would love to know a bit more about how leadership causes this kind of pain. I would love to hear your story.

    1. Thanks Tiffany! In my experience as a leader, I have found that many things cause pain. Like when you make a change for your team that you KNOW is for the better, but they don’t want to change. Or when you have to let a team member go. Or when growth means you can’t keep up….. The good news is that pain is not always a negative thing!

  2. Amy Jones says:

    I think that the leader has to have a clear idea of what he or she wants to do, this is really hard because we often find ourselves switching goals and objectives.

    1. That is so true, Amy! We have so many options open to us in our society now that it makes it hard to focus. Thanks for reading my blog!

  3. Audrey Kidwell says:

    Good Leadership is hard. It’s not a position someone takes one time, but a constant action that takes dedication.

    1. So true Audrey! Thank you for reading my blog!

  4. Marva | sunSPARKLEshine says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Heather. It’s tempting to think that pain is a sign that something’s wrong or it’s time to throw in the towel. That’s not always the case and I’ve found that if I can push past the rough patches, I end up in a much better position to handle the next storm. As with anything else, we will have ups and downs and we would do well to accept them both.

    1. Sometimes the rough patches are impossible to push past, but when it is possible – the end result is always that you get stronger. Appreciate your words, Marva!

  5. Kori says:

    Great post!! Leadership is definitely not something to take lightly. In my own experience, the pain has created so.much.growth! Thanks for this great post!

    1. Thanks for reading it, Kori!

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