I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with many amazing leaders throughout my career and I’ve learned there is one significant challenge that every leader facesI like to call this universal struggle the ultimate leadership challenge. 

What is the ultimate leadership challenge? It is the challenge of overcoming self. To move from being self-focused to others focused. To put our own personal interests and desires aside in order to benefit others. Only a few are able to consistently overcome this daily battle.  

Why is this so hard? We are all human that’s why. We all have our own desires, wants, wishes, egos. We want what we believe will provide comfort and ease, status and recognition, or power and fame. It is tempting to make choices that we believe are in our own best interest, even if it negatively impacts others.  

Recent examples that I’ve encountered where leaders have failed to meet this leadership challenge include:  

-Taking full credit for an idea that was given by a subordinate 

-Hiring a friend instead of promoting a more capable internal candidate 

-Failing to end employment with a staff member who produces results yet creates a very toxic environment  

-Making a decision that will obviously create short-term gains but long-term problems for the organization 

-Promoting self while diminishing the contributions of others in a successful project 

-Not sharing an opinion because it may cause conflict, yet it would really benefit the organization 

-Undercutting another leader in an effort to promote self rather than working differences out for the good of the team 


We all have failed to meet this challenge at one time or anotherNo leader is immune from it. It is never completely eradicated and ialways lurking.  

Why is this important? It is important because leaders who are able to overcome self, who put the well-being of others before their own, who have incredible ambition for others rather than for themselves become the kind of leaders that have a tremendous impact in this world. These are the enduring leaders who are most influential, remembered, and revered.   

What can we do? Recognizing what the ultimate challenge of leadership is can help you succeed. When you come to a fork in the road and know that one path will benefit you while the other will benefit others, you can remember the struggle we all face and then make a wise choice. Checking your choices and evaluating your decisions based on whose interest you are serving will help you. Facing this challenge head on and overcoming self-interest each day, one day at a time, day after day will lead to success.    

Though the fight is not easy, and the war is never completely won, every effort we make to overcome our greatest challenges pays off. People willingly follow and revere those who are able to overcome self and who live to serve others. This is our ultimate challenge as leaders. Are you up for it?  

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