“Following the path of least resistance is what makes individuals and rivers crooked. Few people drift to success.”

There are about as many views and definitions of what encompasses “leadership” as there are experts in this field. There is one point that most leadership researchers and developers agree on; leaders are made not born. Leaders are rarely naturals. Certainly some are innately better at some aspects of leadership than others. For example, they may be more verbal or naturally “people-oriented” than their technical or administratively inclined management counterparts. But most highly effectively leaders have invested countless hours and long years in numerous forms of self-development.

What seems to confuse lesser performing onlookers is that these leaders — like highly skilled athletes — have developed their skills to the point of making it look easy and natural. It’s like good writing. Based on thousands of hours of my painful personal experience, most easy-to-read and “spontaneously flowing” pieces were often the most agonizing to write. I’ve often taken hours to write a few sentences or paragraphs (and then sometimes deleted or rewritten them later). The goal is conversational writing that sounds as if I just sat down at my keyboard and effortlessly banged out a chapter “off the top of my head.” If I am successful, I appear to be a “natural born writer.”

The same is true of “gifted” speakers. Many have spent years polishing, practicing, and presenting what sounds like an “off the cuff,” spontaneous delivery. The “naturally witty” Mark Twain once revealed, “It usually takes me three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.”

Are you ready to pay the price of leadership? The pathways to outstanding performance and ever-higher leadership levels are lengthy and difficult. The time, energy, and discipline required to be successful is intense. It starts with a clear and constant focus on where we’re going, what we believe in, and why we exist (our picture, principles, and purpose). But it also demands another important “p” word — persistence.

Studies of high performers — from Nobel prize-winning scientists, to top athletes, to highly effective corporate leaders — show that their perseverance and “bull dog determination” was a key factor in their eventual success. As the vaudeville and film star, Eddie Cantor, put it, “It takes 20 years to make an overnight success.”

Rather than focusing on the price to be paid, we should concentrate instead on the rewards to be reaped. Our time and life are better organized. We — rather than competitors, the economy, your boss, or “the system” — can control our own destiny. Exciting new markets, products, and services have others scrambling to catch up. Our sense of mastery and confidence grows as we continuously improve our knowledge, skills, and experience. Relationships with those we care most about take on a new depth and richness. We feel more “centered” and in touch with our deep inner, spiritual being — our soul. Our group becomes a truly cohesive, stimulating, and continuously improving team. Our energy, passion, and respect for the person staring back at us in the mirror flourishes when we are true to ourselves. The boy or girl we were is proud of the man or woman we’ve become.