What Is Easy Is Seldom Excellent

This famous quote from Samuel Johnson is echoed in an article in the October 2013 issue of Working Knowledge by Michael Blanding, a publication of the Harvard Business School. Mr. Blanding reports on work by Harvard Business School Professor Joseph Badaracco, who has taken a closer look at the concept of struggle in a business context. He notes that humans instinctively try to avoid struggle, yet as leaders, everything meaningful we achieve in life has some form of struggle attached, and rarely do we pause long after one struggle before we’re on to the next. So we have a paradox — that struggle can be both something to overcome on the way to success and something to embrace as it gives meaning to our lives.

Professor Badaracco observes that there is a new economy in which “markets today not only control the buying and selling of goods and services, they shape nearly every aspect of our lives. Employees see themselves as individual brands, forever on the lookout for new opportunities; home life has become an act of managing supply chains, outsourcing housecleaning, childcare, and even grocery shopping to others; and churches market themselves like fast food companies to potential parishioners.”

This requires leaders to live constantly in the midst of struggle, “making leadership both more difficult and more rewording than it was a generation ago.”

In this new economy, leaders more than ever must keep themselves accountable to the commitments they make, to their employees, to their investors, to their partners, and to other stakeholders — knowing that if they don’t, credibility will be damaged and the market will punish them.

Leaders say they are motivated by seeking the good life, but it’s surprising how few true leaders would prefer to kick back and watch things from the deck of their boat rather than create, build, try, experiment, and — yes — struggle, partly because it’s fun and partly because hard work tells them what they are doing is important. “The struggle is part of who they are.” Click here to read the full article.