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Developing Leaders of Character: A Lesson About Where Great Reward Begins

Great reward does not come without great sacrifice.

Do today’s rising leaders believe this statement to be true?

The quest for personal and career development can be quite tricky. There is no formula and each path is unique. We can design great programs and position high potential leaders for growth, while encouraging excellence and inspiring success, but at the end of the day, what builds the unmistakable character of a great leader?

You know what character I’m referring to….

  • The demonstration of humility and confidence simultaneously.
  • Depth and understanding that not only make someone a great decision-maker, but that incite instantaneous trust.
  • A presence to which people gravitate and wish that they could emulate.
  • This intangible quality not only yields great reward for those who embody it, but for all who come in contact with it.

How does one develop into that kind of leader?  

Is it possible for the path to great reward to be riddled with struggles, rainy days, late nights, frequent disappointment, perpetual frustrations, lonely decisions, exhausting perseverance, and the surrender of what is comfortable in exchange for what is hard and unsettling?

Could it be that this character begins with the giving up of one self, either intentionally or unintentionally, and fighting hard to accomplish a goal against all odds?

Is that really what the “yellow brick road” looks like?

Yes. In fact, it is.

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy had to choose between two roads that lead to Emerald City and Dorothy took the harder one (a fact revealed to us in the 7th book of the Oz series). The road she chose was full of chasms due to areas completely damaged by erosion, and it traveled right through a forest of wild beasts. That is the infamous road the functioned as a guideline for Dorothy to follow….it was a difficult path that required her to say, “I’ll take the hard road. I’ll put my comfort aside. It’s worth it.”

Sacrifice is the beginning of great reward.

Regardless of one’s position, title, responsibility or popularity, the character formed through the trenches of sacrifice is that which cannot be exchanged, replaced or taken away.

Unfortunately, this lesson cannot be learned in a leadership development program.

No simulation or hands-on activity will serve as a detour around the road paved with lack of sleep, tears and exhaustion.

These character-building construction zones require slow travel and caution, but when the work is done, the road will travel quick and smooth leaving plenty of room for growth.

Sacrificial dedication to accomplish the goals set before you and pursue what you believe to be the right thing to do is likely the least desirable path with the most desirable outcome.

So what can be done now?

We must scrutinize the role of sacrifice and hardship in the formation of great leaders. Let’s consider some ways rising leaders can be intentional about examining the concept of sacrifice.


How to explore the role of sacrifice in leadership development:

  1. Identify what sacrifices you have already made and consider how they have begun to shape your character. Write this down.
  2. Recognize that struggles will come and sacrificial decisions will have to be made. This is part of the character-building package. It won’t all be pretty and feel good on the surface. Preparing mentally will guard you against discouragement or disappointment when struggles loom.
  3. Consider priorities and boundaries in preparation for determining what level of sacrifice will be healthy for you. Sacrifice is healthy and struggles produce perseverance, but retain a cautious attitude regarding who, or what, you will allow to become a priority in your life. Working within the tension of being wise and tenacious is part of the character building process. Don’t sacrifice just for the sake of sacrificing; rather sacrifice for what matters most.
  4. Seek out seasoned leaders with depth of character who are willing to tell you their story. Find out how they had to sacrifice, what struggles they trudged through, and what lessons they have learned from those challenging moments. This perspective and reinforcement will be invaluable to you as you face your own challenges.
  5. Patiently wait for healthy personal and career growth. It takes time to form the deep, strong roots that withstand storms. Acting in haste and impatiently plowing through your own development may cover a lot of territory, but your roots will be shallow and may not tolerate the heat. Seasons change constantly and each one serves its purpose.

Leaders of character have struggled, persevered, and developed a depth of understanding that is confident, humble, discerning, attractive, and hope inspiring. This character cannot be fabricated and it cannot be taught, but the path to get there can be navigated and explored. On this worthwhile journey, may future leaders unearth the reward that lies within zealous sacrifice.

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