Leaders: How to Dig Deep and Treasure Your Trials

Treasure Your Trials

As a leader, are you going (or have you been) through tough times? If so, it may be time to reflect on some who have been down that road before you.

For the POWs in the Vietnam War, facing serious trials became a way of life.

Ask a Prisoner of War

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.”

Ask Anybody

For some it’s a work or career crisis. Layoffs and home foreclosures of recent years have cut deep, leaving many in a severe financial crisis that may worsen, with some experts saying that home prices will go down further before we see a slow recovery. For others it’s a health crisis or perhaps a struggling teen, or a relationship that has gone sour from betrayal.

At some point, we all face the pain of trials.

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.   As Victor Frankl put it, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”  The painful struggles that we would never choose often afford the greatest opportunity for personal growth, and 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.  Wisdom gained through the experience of hard times helps us better navigate future minefields.

Persevering through tough times also increases our confidence, preparing us for future challenges that will surely come.  On the other hand, leaders devoid of crucible experiences are likely to be overly confident about their ideas, and surprisingly more susceptible to fears.

Courageously facing our fears in the difficult times gives us both humility and real confidence.

The wisdom garnered in hard times about ourselves and life becomes the wisdom that guides us into a better future.  Additionally, the 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.  Just knowing someone is near—that you are not standing alone—can provide the needed inspiration, courage, and energy to persevere, even when everything in you is saying it’s too tough to keep going.

Every soldier, sailor, airman, and marine knows it’s not good to fight alone. The same is true for all of us.

We must stay connected to be resilient and bounce back from trials. The lingering treasure is that when you have gone through the fire with someone, usually a bond is formed that brings a special relationship for a lifetime.

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 want to discover the gold in your current pit, then answer these questions:

  • How can you find meaning in your current trial? 
  • What are you learning about yourself? 
  • What changes do you need to make now—in your attitude, mindset or behaviors?
  • What wisdom points are you learning in your current situation that will help you in the future? 
  • Who is walking with you through this fire to provide support?  

If you follow these tips, someday, looking back, you will see enormous value in your trials. We’d love to hear your thoughts–please share them in this forum.


Never miss an issue of Linked 2 Leadership, subscribe today here!
Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Lee Ellis
Lee Ellis is Founder & President of Leadership Freedom LLC & FreedomStar Media.
He is a leadership consultant and expert in teambuilding, executive development & assessments
Email | LinkedIn | Web | Blog | Book | Facebook | Twitter

His latest book is called Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton.

Image Sources: 3.bp.blogspot.com

L2L Contributing Author


  1. William Lewis on May 14, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    A little busy but I’ve been here a while now and here’s an answer which might suit.
    PS Written for an other.

    (Linkedin are fixing something so my attempts too leave this failed for the moment so i’ll take this chance and let you have it directly ( did that sound ominous) smiley,’-)) in case it did!

    L—-, I have made every mistake necessary in building character and integrity. I have chosen the toughest road, faced my executioner and defied him. Those that hate me hate me because I am honorable those that love me are waiting. I am determined too make a difference. Not motivated by money ( I have enough my daughter assures me, Pappa, she says, look! Then she looks at me across the floor where we sit, Ellie between us and she carries on singing in Danish for this song ‘Ellifanten elifanten Ellie’fanten’ and i’m crying again and Ellie and I sit spellbound as Dr. Lewis (Anni) (MD) sweetly sings on.)
    Agonized over ‘terrorist’ I wanted too say mother—– ( i’m sorry close your eyes) the ‘is’ after ‘free rein’ also worried, dyslectic and other assorted time wasters.
    ‘Great leaders have a wonderful way of making that seem effortless, don’t they?’ You are one of these people ( NOT FLATTERY) so please as I slowly enter your world be more assertive and don’t waist valuable time be clear and concise so too maximize and in so doing refine my language too suit this next challenge.
    I hope this meets with your approval and is in no way meant too be disrespectful but too save time.

    PS You my treat this as privet or public at your discretion)

  2. Heather Packard on May 17, 2013 at 11:31 am

    This is so timely as I’m in process of recovering and adjusting to a rather traumatic accident. Very similar to your advice, my wise husband has been encouraging me throughout this experience to seek meaning and gain, through personal growth, at least as much if not more than I’ve lost. That has made all the difference in my attitude and perspective.

    • Tom Schulte on May 17, 2013 at 3:10 pm

      Hi Heather,

      I am so sorry to hear about your traumatic accident and the issues that it has caused you. I am glad that Lee’s article helped you. he is certainly the guy to talk to about how to get through troubles!! He is a friend of mine and is THE REAL DEAL!!

      I am not sure if you have seen this post on the L2L page, but I have it available to help people in their time of need. Check it out. See http://linked2leadership.com/help-on-the-way/

      Have a Blessed day :O)


    • Lee Ellis on May 22, 2013 at 4:43 pm

      Heather – I’m so glad that Lee’s experience has made a difference in your personal outlook. Lee would say that he has tried to use every challenging experience in his life to learn, grow, and press through the pain–nothing wasted! And, now his motivation is sharing his experiences with others, and you will be able to do the same someday. Wishing you more victorious days ahead. The Leading with Honor Team

  3. kwalitisme on May 23, 2013 at 4:29 am

    Reblogged this on kwalitisme.