Leadership: valleys and wilderness years

Surprisingly when we delve into history and into the lives of influential leaders you start to discover that often, but not always, they have been through ‘hard times’ or ‘wilderness years’.

I perceive that these can be formative times where vision and call to a certain career or vocation is deepened and strengthened. It can also be a time where character is honed and refined.

Below are some examples of leaders who appear to have gone through valleys and wilderness experiences:

Winston Churchill – had political wilderness years between 1929 and 1939, where he found himself without a position in government – out of power and out of favour – career was over. He spent these years writing books , traveling, and painting. In this time he became a voice in opposition to Hilter and a call for rearmament. This in the end brought him back to leadership at a level greater than before and it seems with greater competency.

Steve Jobs – founder of Apple computers was ousted from the company for 10 years. In this wilderness time he founded NeXT and headed up Pixar and learnt new skills in the process. These were later utilised when he returned to Apple, taking it forward to greater success.

Abraham Lincoln – had a brief position in politics then resumed his profession as a lawyer between 1849 and 1856, which was a time of wilderness for him away from his political ambitions and career. A quote from a biographer reads, ‘he entered his wilderness years a man in pieces and emerged on the other end a coherent steady figure’.

Joseph – from the bible was a man who was changed in his wilderness years, which lasted over 10 years as a slave and later a prisoner. He emerged a humble man who led and saved Egypt and the surrounding nations from famine and destitution with his wisdom and insight.

William Wilberforce – was elected an MP in 1780 and became a voice against slavery in 1789 but was unsuccessful in passing bills in government against the slave trade until 1807. These intervening years were difficult living continuously in defeat, which must have felt like a dark valley – a wilderness at times. He learnt perseverance and the need to strategise, and gained the reward of success in the end.

Please feel free to comment below and share your thoughts on this topic.

Hope you have a good month




“The nation will find it very hard to look up to the leaders who are keeping their ears to the ground.” – Sir Winston Churchill

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” – Abraham Lincoln

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