One of the greatest lesson I have learned in life is that never aspire to attain another  person’s position or achievements until you know the price the person paid to get there.  All true success demands a cost, and all great leaders have a story!

The achievements of one’s goal in life do not come at a discounted price.  Many refuse to pay it.   The great people you admire, however, realise that before victory there is battle; before resurrection a cross.  You cannot have one without the other.

William Penn once said, ‘No pain, no palm; no thorns, no throne, no gall, no glory; no cross; no crown.  Hellen Keller, who certainly had her fair share of pain and problems, wrote, ‘character cannot be developed in ease and quiet.   Only through experience of trial and suffering can souls be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.’

Have you ever seen a beautiful house you real dreamt of and wished you could own it but realised that you would have to make do with your bed sitter because the sticker price of the house you admired was out of your cost range?

Leadership also comes at a cost.   Many people aspire to it, but not all will pay the price to obtain it.  If you do, many want to take your position or at least to be your deputies, but they may not know or be willing to pay the price you paid.  If you are a CEO of a company or institution, a head of sales, head of finance, head of public  relations or any other admirable position, many line up to take your place but they do not know what you went through to get there.  They do not know about the hassles you had and the depression you endured along the way.  They do not know you might have had to sell even your households or remortgage your house to pay for your studies.   They do not know what it cost you to go through university and how much you still pay to Higher Education Board.  No one knows how many hours you had to practice to excel in your work.

A number of studies have confirmed that it takes abut 10,000 hours to become a master of something.  None of those who covet your position realise how many hours, months or even years you did not earn enough money to feed your family. Who knows about the discrimination and discouragement you suffered as a woman to get there?

Leaders are known not by the medals on their chests but by the scars on their backs.

Many people in Kenya might envy the late professor Wangari Maathai, for example for her achievement in environmental Conservation.  Do they know that her family had to do without her most of the time during her days of youth when she was pursuing her career?  This was confirmed by what she said during her interview with one of the media (Drum Magazine), ‘….the one thing that I would do differently now is taking time off to raise my children.  Perhaps I was taking too much into my hands when I was very young …….’  Many people might like to be leaders in the environmental conservation world and enjoy her riches, but they would not want her burdens.

Dr. Martin Luther King (jnr) once said, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare Poetry.  He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say “Here lived a great street Sweeper who did his Job well”

Of the three people mentioned in the quotation above, I would like to choose Michelangelo and make a few comments on the price he had to pay to achieve great paintings.

In Florence –Italy, there is a special Museum that was built to house the stature of David created by Michelangelo several hundreds years ago.  This is perhaps the most beautiful piece of sculpture in the world.  When Michelangelo was asked how he was able to create such a masterpiece, he replied by saying that he saw the David complete and perfect in the marble.  All he did was to remove everything that was not the David.

But remember, even after the David had been released from the marble, it took Michelangelo two solid years of sanding and polishing to turn it into a masterpiece.  In the same way, you also have to pay a price to work on yourself, sanding and polishing, learning and practising, for days, weeks months and even years, to develop and bring out all the talents and abilities that lie deep inside of you.

A careful study of great men and women reveal that greatness was not just a product of academic studies, or formal education, social status or superior breeding, but surprisingly the greatness of each was related to the discovery, development, refinement, and serving of the unique talent to their fellow men and women.  And this did not happen without a price.

Therefore Leadership demands a high price.  Often the more successful the leader, the higher the price he has to pay. Some of the costs that you should consider to pay are:

  1. Self –Sacrifice: A leader will no doubt have to give time and treasure, as well as forego many pleasures, rewards or vices. 
  1. Criticism: A leader will face scrutiny and analysis, because people often resent the one who steps forward or challenge their thinking.
  1. Loneliness: A leader who dares to stand a lone or who accepts isolation is part of the deal.
  1. Rejection: A leader will find that people may not accept him or her as a decision maker, person or friend.
  1. Fatigue: A leader will experience mental, physical and spiritual exhaustion that come with serving and giving more of his time, energy and soul for the benefits of others.
  1. Relationships: A leader may set her family, friends and colleagues suffer because of their association with him or her, and those close to him or her will have to share their loved one with others as well as share the pains.

Mario Andretti, the race car driver once said, “If everything is under control, you are going too slowly.” You are not paying enough prices.

The novelist Richard Bach once remarked. “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world the master calls the Butterfly”

The transition of the caterpillar morphing into the butterfly looks like a mess but something even more beautiful is being created. Therefore, disruption is usually the beginning of real improvement showing up. The old needs to be cleared out before the space for the new and better can arrive.  Even clearing a bush you need to meet some costs.

If you desire leadership and accept the call to serve now is the time to calculate what you are prepared to pay.

The price of greatness is the greatness of the price!

Mr. Joseph Nyanchama is a motivational speaker on transformational and servant leadership.