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The gift of struggle: life-changing lessons about leading

Amy Throndsen for Progressive Dairy Published on 13 June 2019

When I saw the title of a recent interview of The One Thing’s podcast, “The Gift of Struggle,” I thought: “Gift of struggle. Come on, what kind of gift is there in struggle? Anyone who thinks there is a gift in struggle probably hasn’t had much of a struggle.”

Turns out, Bobby Herrera, the author of The Gift of Struggle, has had his fair share of struggles, and his ability to shift his mindset to see the “gift” in “struggle” has changed his business and personal relationships for the better. 

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“Struggle is the most honest and revealing measure of progress that any leader can have. You must go through struggle, pain and suffering to get to wisdom. There’s no shortcut,” Herrera said.

Herrera’s struggle started early, as one of 13 children in an immigrant migrant farm worker family. There wasn’t much to go around for extras.  

Herrera’s family could afford for him and his brother Ed to play basketball, but there wasn’t money for them to go out to eat with the team after games. They would sit on the bus and wait. It happened so many times, they were over the embarrassment of waiting in the bus, but after one game, something profound happened that would change the course of Herrera’s life.

A teammate’s father got on the bus and said, “It would make me very happy if you would allow me to buy you dinner so that you and Ed can join the rest of the team, nobody else has to know. All you have to do to thank me is do the same thing for another great kid just like you on this bus.”

Herrera said, “I’ll never forget the wave of gratitude that I felt at that moment. Struggle had been the only constant in my family’s journey up to that point.” 

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“When I stepped off that bus, I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life, but I knew why,” Herrera said. “For the first time in my life, I had felt, seen … a successful business man that’s not supposed to notice kids like me … instead with one true act of kindness showed me that that’s what great leaders do.”

That teammate’s father did more for Herrera than provide money for a meal. It gave him purpose and instilled a philosophy in business and life that everyone deserves the opportunity to succeed. It was the Herrera’s invisible story that drove him.

What struggles have impacted your life?
What have you learned from those struggles?
What is your “bus story”?  
What is the invisible story that drives you?

It wasn’t until he learned that telling his story, bringing the invisible into the light, was a way to connect with his employees and customers.

“One of the biggest mistakes I made … is the fact that I didn’t tell my story,” Herrera said.  

“I didn’t tell my story for nine years,” Herrera said. “I fell into the dogma that the people that were working for me didn’t want it as much as I do. It would show up in my intensity, and people didn’t understand me very well.”

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Since Herrera runs a staffing company, it makes sense that his company’s core belief is that everyone deserves the opportunity to succeed. It wasn’t until he was asked why he believes the core belief that he first told the bus story.

He immediately felt like a 1,000-pound gorilla jumped off his back, and when his team heard the story for the first time, they finally understood him.

“They knew I was a champion for the underdog. They knew that I intuitively cared about them,” Hererra said, “but they didn’t know what it was that was driving me on the inside.”

Do you feel misunderstood?
Does your family know your core beliefs? And why they matter to you?
Have you told your bus story to your family and your team?
Do you know your people’s stories?

Once Herrera told his story, others started telling their stories, and his company became a community. 

Hererra learned that vulnerability is a skill that actually helps you connect with your people. “I was buying into the dogma that the leadership chain is the IQ chain,” he recalls. “Once I shared that story with [my employees], they wanted to help me as much as I wanted to help them.”

“We all struggle, and every struggle teaches us something. Leadership is sharing those gifts with others,” Herrera said.

As dairy farmers, you are no stranger to struggles and overcoming struggles as a necessary part of survival. Mother Nature throws you a curve ball, the global market is unpredictable, caring for animals 365 days a year is challenging (to say the least), and balancing the income and expenses with ever-changing markets provides enough struggles for even the strongest among us.  

They aren’t easy questions to answer, and they might bring up things that have been under the surface, but not discussed in your family or business before. Maybe, it could be the breakthrough your team needs to understand you better and connect the reason why you do what you do, even through the struggles.  

What is your bus story?
To whom have you told the “why” behind what you do?
Do your people know the lessons you’ve learned from the struggles you’ve gone through?

Take some time to ask yourself the questions noted throughout this article, and create a plan for sharing them with your team at work and at home. Give them the opportunity to answer these questions for themselves. You just might be amazed by their responses and the shift you see in the workplace and in yourself.  end mark

Amy Throndsen
  • Amy Throndsen

  • Chief Operating Officer
  • Advanced Comfort Technology Inc.
  • Email Amy Throndsen

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