7 Ways Good Leaders Struggle and 4 Things They Do to Make it Better

I’m fortunate to be privy to the thoughts and feelings of my clients—many of whom are women who are successful in male-dominated fields. Contrary to popular belief or what media portrays, being the boss, or having power, doesn’t come easy. Despite being talented and good at what they do, and perhaps because the women I work with are also caring, I’ve witnessed that good leaders struggle.

Perhaps because they are willing to wrestle with and work through challenges, they become the kind of leaders who are respected in their fields.

If you are struggling, too, I’ve provided below key lessons I’ve learned from working with good leaders. Listing them here, I hope that you’ll feel less alone.

7 Observations of Good Leaders

The good leaders I’ve worked with:

1. Aren’t always decisive. Often, the more important their jobs are, the more complex and tricky the problems that land on their desk. They seek others’ opinions, change their minds, have difficulty making a decision, and bravely argue for a solution only to have it met with heavy resistance or a boss who disagrees then needing to start over. Some who work for them recognize the difficulty of the decision and respect them, while others are unable to.

2. Are humble and willing to learn. While they know they’re capable, they aren’t always or completely confident. They’re willing to admit they don’t have all of the answers, so they are able to find them by asking good questions. They know whom to ask. As a result, they come up with better solutions.

3. Champion others. They let others thrive when they’re doing well, even when they may feel a bit threatened. They recognize that allowing others to advance or take on greater responsibility helps them in the short and the long term.

4. Take responsibility for mistakes, even when it was their subordinates who made them. This, of course, frustrates them, but they learn from their mistakes. They fix them and teach others what they learned.

5. Quietly suffer when people wrong them. They don’t lash out, but they vent to and consult with a few people they trust. Women I’ve worked with tend to turn things over in their heads, feel pain, and question themselves. They may certainly feel anger, but they neither ostracize the people who wronged them nor shame or gossip about them. Instead, they may politely avoid them. And sometimes, when necessary, they even find a way to constructively confront them.

6. Don’t find firing people easy. They’ve gotten to know the people who work for them and are familiar with their life situations. They understand that losing a job isn’t easy, and they also know that hanging on to people who don’t fit or can’t thrive doesn’t help anyone.

7. Feel the loss when people leave them. They invest in the people they work with, whether employees or clients. Even when they have championed and nurtured growth so that their subordinates can move on, it isn’t easy for them to say goodbye.

4 Things That Help When Good Leaders Struggle

To remedy a challenging situation, working with good leaders, we’ve found it helps to…

  1. Acknowledge the struggle. Describe what is happening and name the emotions you’re feeling. Don’t hide your pain. Avoiding the struggle makes it worse. Instead, take breaks and give yourself some space.
  2. Analyze what happened, with someone you trust. Rather than talk to someone who will simply let you rehash or relive all of the negative feelings, find people who are both empathetic and objective enough to ask questions that orient you toward a solution. I’m biased but coaches are more helpful here than consultants, mentors, or advisors–who tend to tell you what to do or what they did in their situation.
  3. Decide on one or two small things you can do to make the situation better. It helps to break down a bigger problem into smaller pieces or steps.
  4. Let go of what is not in your control. Often, this requires letting go of what people think of you. You have enough responsibilties as it is, give yourself a break by making the choice not to ruminate over things you can’t change.

Your turn

What are your take-aways from good leaders you’ve worked with?

What will lesson might you test out this week?

An older version of this article was first published in June 2016.