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What’s Your Leadership Made Of—Steel or Straw?

“Do you limp?”

The inquiry caught me off guard. Popular author Gary Smalley and his team were peppering me with questions, determining if I was the best candidate to collaborate on his next project.

“Do you limp?” his mentoree, Ted Cunningham, pressed again, determined to discover if I’d experienced adversity or hardship.

“You have no idea,” I answered.

That conversation, which took place more than six years ago, still echoes in my mind. Gary Smalley, Ted Cunningham, and I have worked on more than a half-dozen projects together, but I’ve never forgotten the issue they raised that day.

Do you limp? remains a timeless question among those in leadership. It’s the gentle way of asking:

Can we survive in a foxhole together?

Are you going to buckle under pressure?  

Have you been tested?

Are you made of steel or straw?

Though I’d faced much pain and loss over the years, none has proven as eye-opening or earth shattering as being diagnosed with cancer almost 20 months ago. I’ve traded green rooms for hospital rooms, waiting rooms, and operating rooms.

I now walk among the fellowship of the afflicted. If you’ve experienced suffering as a leader, then you are no longer outsiders to great grief.

You’ve become a member of the club no one wants to be part of—but once you’re in, you have an important choice:

Will you allow that pain to define you or refine you?

If you choose refinement, then you open your soul’s doors to the gift of 2 Corinthians 1:4 to flow through you.

Second Corinthians 1:4 speaks to the fellowship of the afflicted. You can’t dispense the solace you haven’t received, or comprehend the pain that hasn’t seared your bones.

Leaders pay a heavy price to become dispensers of the spiritual balm described in this passage.

Namely, you are going to be very uncomfortable for a very long while.

Yet it’s through this hard journey that you become authenticated as a leader. You discover what you’re made of, and more importantly, what He is made of.

You’re weaker than you think. He is stronger.

Youthful illusions are shattered then rebuilt ever so slow with fortified faith.

Some of biggest discoveries I’ve been making through this rugged journey are facets of joy that no one ever taught me—more than whimsy, joy is a weapon we use to fight life’s battles.

The thing is, no one signs up for that discovery project, finding joy in suffering. No one.

Everyone who has faced a challenge, or who knows someone in the midst, needs a to know that suffering doesn’t win. Joy wins.

Even as we shift from straw to steel leaders, we can be people who fight back with joy.

My prayer is that the Fight Back With Joy book and Bible study will be beacon for anyone searching for HOW to fight darkness.

Sooner or later, we all find ourselves on the battlefield. But we can fight back with joy and help others do the same.

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