10 Lessons From 10 Years: Hard Things Are Hard

Welcome to Lesson 9 of African Leadership Academy CEO Chris Bradford’s reflections on lessons learnt over the past 10 years of establishing Africa’s leading educational institution.

10 Lessons From 10 Years

‘…our greatest sense of achievement comes from accomplishing hard things.’

LESSON NUMBER NINE: Hard Things Are Hard

When we set out on our audacious mission in 2004, we expected that building African Leadership Academy would be hard – we had no funding, a limited network, many things to learn, and many ways in which we would have to grow.

True to form, the past fourteen years have been hard – full of challenge, strain, failure, and growth. ALA exists today because we have attracted amazing people who lean into difficulty and embrace challenge. What has separated our very best years from the rest has been a collective commitment to doing the hardest things.

Hard things are hard – they require immense, disproportionate effort to get done. Our brains are wired to do the least work we can on any particular task. So it is not surprising that when we look at a long list of tasks, we often tend to “check off” those which are most enjoyable or easiest. We clean out our email inbox rather than have a difficult conversation; we do again the activities that we know how to do well, rather than those for which the process – and the likelihood of ultimate success – is uncertain.

Our ultimate success is a function of working against these impulses. As I have observed my own work and that of our team over the past decade, I have noticed two things:

First, that our greatest sense of achievement comes from accomplishing hard things.

Second, that what separates great leaders from the rest is their commitment to executing hard things.

In 2012, I received an email from ALA student (now faculty member) Takondwa Semphere. I was struck by three simple words in her email signature, which I have pasted below.


Priscilla Takondwa Semphere

Do Hard Things

These words have become a mantra across ALA and ALU, and are a piece of advice that I have since offered to every entering student at ALA during their first week of school.

We are here to Do Hard Things. These Hard Things are Hard. When we lean into the challenge and revel in the stretch, we grow, we revel, and we thrive.

What are the greatest challenges that confront you today?

As you consider your allocation of time over the past few weeks, have you devoted time toward the execution of the hard things? Or have you shied away from the “hard” in favor of the “easier”?

What hard decisions you are avoiding? Do you know what you need to do? What prevents you from getting it done?

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