How Leaders Thrive In Hardships

You don’t run away from problems–you just face them.
— Fannie Lou Hamer, 1917-1977, voting rights activist

How does a leader thrive when the going gets tough?

Some time ago I sat at a leadership round table with Bill Hybels and Carly Fiorina. I felt like the Little Leaguer who got to run the bases after the Dodgers played the Astros: totally out of my league, but happy to step onto the field.

Bill Hybels . . .

Bill is the Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, one of the most dynamic and influential congregations in the world. He has authored more than 20 books. His vision gave rise to the Global Leadership Summit, a gathering that strengthens leaders in 128 countries around the globe.

Carly Fiorina . . .

Carly Fiorina, the former CEO at Hewlett-Packard, was responsible for leading a global conglomerate with almost a quarter of a million employees. Today she heads Carly Fiorina Enterprises, which champions political conservatism, Washington reform, and citizen government.

I took my place at the table prepared to glean from the experts. I was not disappointed. If there is one thing I have learned it is this:

Get around people who are better. Ask questions. Listen carefully.

I  learned a lot!

Today I am rubbing rubbing shoulders with another leadership giant, a military hero and political point man responsible to lead, protect, and advance a nation. His name is Joshua. We find his story in the pages of the Scriptures.

Let me set the stage. Joshua was leading a fickle nation, about two-million strong, into enemy territory. His predecessor, Moses, had been “the man” for forty years, but now Moses is gone and the burden of leadership falls to Joshua.

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide:

Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them…Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
— Joshua 1:1-6

God’s encounter with Joshua is reminiscent of Lincoln and his Gettysburg Address. Few words—major impact! In this brief encounter we learn seven important truths that can help any leader thrive in the face of hardships:

1. Leaders embrace hardship as part of the leadership gig.

God promised Joshua, “I will be with you,” but He did not promise, “Your task will be trouble-free.” Joshua teaches me that God’s love for me does not mean he removes all problems from me. Hardships are opportunities to see God work.

2. Leaders do not equate difficulties with God’s disfavor.

God told Joshua, “Be strong and courageous.” Why? Because Joshua had a tall task in front of him. When leaders see challenges as inherent to leadership, they don’t interpret hard times as a sign of God’s displeasure.

3. Leaders expect to sweat.

Joshua was leading a massive army to invade and conquer a hostile territory. That’s tough, but that’s leadership. Leaders expect challenges.

4. Leaders lean on God’s power and his promises.

Leaders are bold in the face of challenges. Their boldness stems from God’s power and God’s promises to them—not their own gifts or expertise.

5. Leaders understand discouragement as a normal part of the leadership process.

God never would have said, “Do not be discouraged” if the job was void of challenges. Understanding those challenges leaders grow to expect discouraging days from time-to-time. Knowing leadership is rarely a walk on Easy Street they own the challenge and march on.

6. Leader's security comes from God not their circumstances.

Christian leaders learn to take refuge in God's promise: “I will be with you wherever you go.” Their ultimate anchor, their ultimate identity is God's work in their lives. They still own the mission. They still accept responsibility. But they have come to understand that "success" or "failure" does not define them. God does.

7. Leaders remind themselves, “Be strong and take heart.”

Leaders who follow God remind themselves again, "Be strong and take heart." In other words they look at themselves in the mirror and say, "Suck it up, soldier!" They give themselves that pep talk because they know the nature of the work, but even more so because they know they can take on that work with God's help.

Where are you facing a leadership hardship?

Are you facing tough stuff? Why not pull up your chair next to Joshua. Which of the seven words would he speak into your life today?


Let Joshua remind you and encourage you:

God will help you through the tough stuff.

Your day may be dark, but your soul does not have to be. Lean on the One who said, "Be strong and take heart" and "I will never leave you or forsake you."