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Treasuring Your Trials By Lee Ellis

Treasuring Your Trials: Three Leadership Survival Steps for Challenging Times

What a season we’ve had with the Coronavirus outbreak! What we have seen in the last week is shocking. Almost beyond comprehension. Incredible as it sounds, I experienced a similar shocking life change at age 24.

My Vietnam POW Experience

I was a combat experienced and a somewhat cocky fighter pilot—and then suddenly my aircraft was blown into several pieces over Vietnam in 1967. Fortunately, my “James Bondesque” ejection seat worked and saved my life, but unfortunately, I was parachuting into enemy territory, communist North Vietnam. Suddenly my life changed drastically, and I could not have imagined that I would be a POW for more than five years.

For the POWs in the Vietnam War, facing serious trials became a way of life. In that bleak existence locked up and isolated in a communist prison camp for five, six, seven and even eight years, every day had its challenges. The POWs had to depend on their enemy for the meager food that kept them alive. The same sinister enemy used isolation, beatings, and torture in their attempts to exploit them and make them into propaganda pawns for the communist party.  The diet was pitiful and medical care was virtually non-existent.  Yet the POWs emerged stronger, becoming successful military leaders, congressmen, teachers, lawyers, doctors, counselors, businessmen, and even a Senator and Presidential candidate.  They learned to treasure the trials of their hardship.

Not many will have to contend with the tribulations of POW life, but everyone faces hardships and disappointments. When you’re in dark times or caught up in the chaos of a battle, it isn’t easy to see the treasure in your trials.  Here are some tips to help you refocus toward not only your goals but the true gold found in trials.

 Go Deep—Find Meaning and Make Changes

Adversity builds character by forcing us to face our deepest beliefs and values. In the crucibles of life, when all the pretend stuff melts away it’s much easier to clarify what is really important and what is not. We have the opportunity to find meaning in our suffering and meaning is a treasure worth finding.

The transformation that we most need isn’t very inviting in good times, but in difficult times our pain can give us the energy and motivation to change our attitudes and behaviors. Personal growth is the only path to genuine leadership development.

Go Long—Gain Wisdom and Experience

Leadership research confirms that the experience of overcoming difficulties is not only transformational; making us stronger, but it also makes us wiser and better suited for the challenges of leadership.  On the other hand, leaders devoid of crucible experiences are likely to be overly confident about their ideas, and surprisingly more susceptible to fears. Difficult trials generate strong emotional memories that stay with us longer and are more easily accessed—gold that we don’t have to search so hard to find.

Don’t Go It Alone 

When you are in a battle, you don’t want to be alone—you need supporters in your corner—people who care about you and have your back.  They can provide encouragement when your spirit is down and your hope is sagging.  Encouragement can provide vital energy for bouncing back and continuing to persevere. Sometimes a shared idea or a new perspective on a problem can make all the difference. We must stay connected to be resilient and bounce back from trials.

Next Steps

More than likely, you have already passed through some tough times in your life.  It may be helpful to look back and see the treasure that you gained from those past challenges.  What was the meaning you gained through those trials?  What did you learn about yourself that may be helpful now?  What changes did you make then?  Who walked with you?

You have a choice. You can let your trials bury you or you can dig for the treasure in them. If you follow these tips, someday, looking back, you will see enormous value in your trials.

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As president of Leadership Freedom® LLC, Lee Ellis is a nationally-recognized consultant, presenter, and retired USAF Colonel that shares his expertise in the areas of leadership, team building, and human performance. His latest award-winning book about his Vietnam POW experience is entitled Leading with Honor®: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton. Learn more at www.leadingwithhonor.com.

 

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