I’ll Have the Gain. Please Hold the Pain

Posted on 14 October 2020

Performance under pressure is a leadership prerequisite

The global economy continues to experience extreme volatility as we digest and react to the most severe financial environment many of us have ever witnessed. The latest developments, including the colossal intervention—a.k.a. “bailout”—by the US government to ease an ever-expanding crisis, have not yet alleviated the markets’ fears.

This crisis highlights some scary attitudes that we have developed both as citizens and leaders—we want quick and easy resolutions to all our problems, with minimal personal responsibility and accountability. We have low thresholds for pain and even less tolerance for patience or failure.

All the gain; none of the pain

Put bluntly, we want the economy to be bailed out, but we don’t want to foot the bill. We want cheaper gas, but we want to continue to drive our vehicles of choice, eschew public transportation and equivocate when it comes to investments in alternative energy sources. We want to be homeowners, but we don’t want to have to save for a down payment or have to pay uncomfortable mortgage payments.

In essence, we want all the rewards with none of the accompanying discomforts, risks or responsibilities.

There’s no such thing as painless leadership

Challenges, difficulties and setbacks are all part of the package, and essential components of standard business cycles, ongoing growth and development, and life in general. John McDonnell, former CEO of McDonnell Douglas, noted that, “adversity introduces you to yourself.” To navigate sub-optimal conditions makes you come face-to-face with your strengths, weaknesses and abilities. It is from the midst of the most challenging conditions that true leaders emerge. Remember how much adversity Oprah Winfrey confronted in her life and how she chose to emerge from it all like a phoenix rising from the ashes.

Of course no one likes discomfort, let alone failure. But “the fastest way to succeed,” IBM’s Thomas Watson, Sr., once said, “is to double your failure rate.” The best leaders know that failure is a prerequisite to invention and innovation.

What’s more, many leaders must nurture others through failures as well. Our best products and processes tend to be launched by those willing to both encourage risk taking—which means being open and able to learn from all the inevitable mistakes . . . and take responsibility for them too. Failure in life and business is not just acceptable. In many ways, it’s desirable. It rewards us with lessons that could not otherwise be learned.

Coping with challenging times

Challenging times require resilience and the ability to tackle and overcome adversity. Setbacks and upheavals often provide the best opportunities for innovation and growth, if you’re up to the challenge. True leaders don’t whine or succumb to hardship; they acknowledge the difficulties, learn from them and resolve to move forward.

We can all use these turbulent times to determine acceptable risk tolerance for ourselves and our organizations. We can learn if we’re ready for less than ideal conditions and how to make the most out of the worst. We can start to differentiate ourselves with creativity and the willingness to face reality. Performance under pressure is a leadership prerequisite. Anyone who cannot cope with tough times has no claim to being a leader at all.

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This post was written by:

Nina Simosko - who has written 18 posts on Slow Leadership.

Nina Simosko is Global Chief Operating Officer for the worldwide SAP Education organization and is a member of the SAP Senior Executive team. She is responsible for more than half a billion euros in global software and services revenue. She has more than 14 years of sales and operations management experience with a tremendous understanding of the global high-tech industry. Prior to joining SAP in 2004, Nina worked at Siebel Systems, where she served as the General Manager of Education for the Americas, Asia Pacific/Japan and also ran Global Support & Maintenance Sales. Nina joined Siebel after working at Oracle Corporation running the Global Education Sales & Marketing team. Nina is involved in the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs and Executives, the Professional Area Network for Women in Technology, and the Alliance of Technology and Women. She recently joined the board of directors of YES Reading, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering students through literacy and investing in underserved public schools.

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17 Comments For This Post

  1. Jo says:

    Hey, I agree tough times are made a lot less tough by working with people and figuring out what we are going to DO.

    Do you think you can pass on a message? The RSS feed is not working properly.
    I put the http://www.slowleadership.org/blog/ into Pageflakes and it comes back on RSS feed.

    Your old blog worked fine. I’ll check again in a few days and update my feed.


  2. Carmine Coyote says:

    @Jo: The RSS feed can be found on http://feeds.feedburner.com/SlowLeadership

  3. CK says:

    I have to agree that at times there is pain in leadership. But there are different levels of pain. Considering that the financial situaiton that we are currently in could have been avoided if we would have listened to, not the leaders, but the people in the trenches!

    A leader, a GOOD leader, listen to the troops! Take for an example a wagon-master of the old west. He would send scouts ahead to check out the paths before them. When they returned, the wagon-master would decide which would be a better course.

    How for would the wagon-master go if he (or she) would simply ignore the advce and trek forward towards a cliff? That is what happened in our current situation. Knowledgable people were sounding the alarms but were simply ignored because they were short-sighted with greed.

    This has happened in regards to 9/11, Katrena, and now the finacial meltdown!

  4. Scott says:

    I agree with some of the article. Obviously, Nina speaks with equal parts of fact and emotion to rouse the reader into action. However, based on our (society’s) ability to repeat history and line the pockets of those with wealth, we must level the playing field with trust and loyalty for America to progress to higher ground.

    There are clear examples of people who have overcome obstacles to succeed in our capitalistic country; however, most people end up failing at the hands of egotistical leadership and money-mongers at top of the pyramid. Most leaders are consumed with their own self-interests and net worth, which prevents many leaders from rising to the top altruistically.

    This day in age, there are so many young people that don’t want anything to do with corporate America. The corruption, greed, and collapse of industry (outsourcing) has many graduates running for the Peace Corps.

    There is a good book, Dropping Almonds, by Bach Anon that chronicles the inside world of corporate America. How are we supposed to move forward as leaders when we’re teaching society that greed and cheating the system is the only way to get ahead and make 100s of millions of dollars.

    Every man, woman, and child for themselves is the culture we’ve created.



  5. Nina Simosko says:

    Thanks for your note. Tough times are truly those where a “village” shows its true value. I leverage my own village to help weather challenging moments, learn from failures or creatively solve the problems we confront.


  6. Nina Simosko says:

    We are in violent agreement about learning from the troops. Several months ago, I wrote a piece that addressed just this point [http://ninasimosko.com/blog/2020/04/23/i%E2%80%99ve-learned-enough%E2%80%A6ha/]. As I noted in this piece, my suggestion for those around me [not excluding myself] is to wake up each day and ask yourself, “what am I going to learn today?” We can only hope that this message finds its way to our political leaders, financial leaders and all of those whose leadership is counted on by the public at large. It is not fair to simply believe that these are “corporate” ways and don’t have applicability to others in these positions.


  7. Nina Simosko says:

    Hi Scott,
    You’ll surely get no disagreement from me regarding “trust and loyalty”. I live by a philosophy that I have written about in prior entries, “it is better to be respected and not liked than to be liked and not respected”. This means that there are times that honesty hurts, but I will always be open and honest as I believe that this is truly the best way to operate with those around us.

    However, I’m not sure that I would agree that “most people end up failing at the hands of egotistical leadership and money-mongers at top of the pyramid.” In fact, I have written about some tremendous individuals who have overcome great odds to achieve astounding success, despite unconscionable hurdles [http://ninasimosko.com/blog/2020/04/11/what-leaders-can-learn-from-this-woman/]. Beyond this, I believe, clearly in difference to your view, that the majority of leaders genuinely have others’ interests at heart. In fact, I would even suggest that they only became leaders based upon their ability to command the respect and inspiration of others [http://ninasimosko.com/blog/2020/03/04/to-lead-or-not-to-lead/].

    As for the reduced interest in corporate America, I believe that, at least in part, this is due to demographic trends of Gen Y and Milleniums. But, I would suggest to you that corporate America still has its appeal to this generation…just look at Google’s recruitment efforts - thousands of applicants for tens of jobs.

    Lastly, I will try to take a read of Dropping Almonds, especially as someone who has had an enjoyable and successful corporate career. But, I will not ever be convinced that the “greed and cheating the system is the only way to get ahead and make 100s of millions of dollars.” Despite those that have chosen this course, the vast majority of corporate leaders have attained their positions through hard work, exceptional performance and an ability to inspire and command the respect of others who then support their rise to leadership positions.

    I hope that you will one day experience this as I have, because as I say, I truly enjoy my corporate career and fully encourage those around me to make the most of their corporate opportunities as well.

    Thanks so much for your thoughts.


  8. CK says:

    @Scott - I have to agree with you on that! I have written a small article about management being self-centered. (The article is really about my current employer)

    And even though I am (currently) not a manager, I was at one time elsewhere. Where I work now, I have a few people who will follow me if I decide to leave and offered them work. Why? Because I take a more humanistic path.

    Point and case, a co-worker has a family emergency in which she has to travel out of state. She spent all her money on just the airfare and has no money for her food or any other exspenses while she is there! In response, a co-worker and I gave her $100 each. I also asked her what she needed ($$$) for her trip. She said she needs a total of $300 … I gave her the additional $100 - no questions asked.

    During this whole time management is no where to be seen during this personal crisis in her life. But this is not the only time management is AWOL. It’s no wonder why fellow employees have no respect for our management.

  9. Scott says:


    I really enjoy your writing style and suggestions; I believe that you are true to your words and I’m glad that you have found success in corporate America. I very much value your experience. I, on the other hand, have given up on corporate America for broader reasons that have affected me personally. On top of that, we now have a government that is taking over huge stakes in our capitalistic market to try and prevent an economic meltdown, because of greed and money-mongers. We are socializing our banks with government involvement and who knows how all of “that” will be handled.

    CK—-Thanks for your note, you would likely enjoy Dropping Almonds, as the metaphor carries over into our personal lives. The employee you helped will remember your generosity for a lifetime. Just like Bach states in the book, when leaders (executive) don’t know what to do, they retreat to their offices and do nothing.

    I appreciate both of your comments…

  10. Nina Simosko says:

    Scott & CK,
    Thanks for the continuing conversation. I appreciate your thoughts and perspectives, and am especially aware that my circumstances are just that - mine - and not everyone else’s. That said, I too am concerned as you are, Scott, that our government is socializing portions of our financial industry. I do believe that, to a large extent, the problems we are confronted with today are the result of excessive greed that permeated the upper ranks of that industry. However, government has a broader obligation to protect the masses and not doing what they are now undertaking might in fact lead to even worse consequences for all of us - certainly something none of us wish to see happen. So, it seems to me that they are taking the least worst alternative. Not good, but the best they can come up with given the dire circumstances of the markets. Oh well, let’s just hope it works!!

  11. CK says:

    @ Scott - I’ll have to check that book out. There is SOOO much on my reading list but I will add your recommendations to it!

  12. CK says:

    I didn’t see much of a description on Amazon in regards to the book recommended “Dropping Almonds.” After some searching, I found a better description on the publisher’s site (sure with Amazon would add this to their description!). This is what the publisher said regarding the book “Dropping Almonds” (now I am even MORE interested in obtaining a copy!)


    Dropping Almonds highlights the low-lights of a Vice President in a struggle to swim at the top of an organization. After following strategic direction and selling or closing several operations, Bach Anon finds himself unceremoniously dumped from the senior leadership team he was serving. Based on true events, Dropping Almonds will show you the lighter side of business management and how the American Dream turns into a Field of Nightmares. Bach Anon also chronicles some of the earlier periods of his development and how he prepared for the eventual rise to the top of a multi-million dollar company.

    With elements of humor, personal struggles, and business lessons, Dropping Almonds introduces the reader to several scenarios that likely play out in businesses all over the world. Bach Anon presents 5 solutions to issues that plague higher education and selfish business motives by higher level leadership. Bach’s writing style is bold and straight-forward, so the reader may identify and connect with the business lessons detailed in Dropping Almonds. Dropping Almonds begins with an evocative look at how Bach has performed “All of that work for so little return” From beginning to end, Bach Anon will keep you reading with a perspective of how his executive role collapsed over a two year period and what he learned from the experience.

  13. Nina Simosko says:

    Sounds like a very interesting book…thanks again for the recommendation.

  14. CK says:

    Scott gave the recommendation - I’m just passing the detail along. I have to agree - it sounds very interesting!

  15. Scott says:

    If corporate America could clone CK and Nina about 20 million times over, there would be no need to endure the struggles of today’s economy. I’m refreshed there are still individuals that care and understand today’s environment. We need our numbers to grow in masses to improve leadership in our current system.

    CK—-you’re welcome, I’m sure you will relate to the experience (because you possess empathy). The book is not typical with regard to what you’ll find on shelves and touted by corporate America.

  16. Nina Simosko says:

    Hear, hear, Scott!!

  17. CK says:

    I wrote a paper that was published on a blog regarding corrupt organizations (namely mine) and how poorly they would treat people. What is ironic is that our CIO was nominated in a CIO magazine along with one of his catch-phrases “It’s all about the people” … of course what’s printed is not even close to being TRUE!!! The article name is “Peditory Management.

    In regards to the book … the local bookstores don’t have it in stock so I’ll have to order it!

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