For Strength, Character and Resilience, just add Heat!

A leader’s life is filled with a barrage of external challenge of adversity, change and crisis, as well as with personal failures and lapses in judgment or will power. As leaders, we all want to finish well, but at times we may be tempted to quit.


American author and Presidential advisor Napoleon Hill once said, “Character is to man what carbon is to steel.”
Steel is forged in fire. The evidence of resilience in any great leader will be forged in the fires of daily life, and it is the very heat of the challenge that forms the strength of character that makes us resilient. Though carbon is used for steel, it is also used for pencil lead. As such it is soft and smudges easily on paper. This would be our character, and our resilience, without the fire of challenge.

I am not an expert of steel, but I did a little research and found it interesting that the hardness of steel falls off with increase heat, while strength increases. In my experience, the hardened leader is not necessarily the most resilient.

Steel Temper Chart

I found this inspirational for my own resilience journey. Like carbon steel, our resilience is less about holding an iron-hard will and more about a yielding to the fire of challenge in a way that produces strength. No fire, no strength. No challenge, no resilience.
There is a passage in the book of James in the Bible that reads, “Consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing…produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete…”

Joy? I confess that I do not enjoy the fire of challenge. Some days I feel like I have hit my limit. In these moments I feel that I have a better chance of melting into a perpetual psychiatric patient than being tempered into a champion of leadership resilience.

What Keeps Me Going?
There are many aspects to resilience, but in this season of my life I find that one of the most powerful is purpose. Purpose creates a single-minded focus that calls me beyond the flame and heat of a present challenge toward the strength that will result, not just for myself, but also for all who follow.

On a deeper level I note that this is less about me, and more about the impact that my life has on others.
19th century spiritual writer Brigid E. Herman suggests that, “we all tend to be infatuated with the idea of strength — but we fail to realize that all true strength is grounded in humility. We still relegate humility to the pale ranks of passive virtues and ornamental graces, whereas, in its legitimate development, it is a stout and soldierly quality.”

Questions for your consideration:
Every great leader aspires to have the courage to persevere and overcome, to lead well and to be recognized in some way, even if only within him/herself, as being equal to the challenge and having passed the test.

1. Do you struggle with humility? Is it possible that you are more afraid of the stigma of failure (and what others will think) than the actual failure itself?

2. Can you identify your calling; your compelling purpose – the thing that you will live and/or die for?

3. Where is the fire burning hottest for you presently? Are you becoming hardened or strengthened?

4. Have you been resisting the challenge and looking for a way out, or have you embraced the challenge as your opportunity for growth and depth?

5. What would it look like for you to consider your challenge “joy”? What do you feel when you think of it this way? What steps could you take to be reminded of this perspective each day?