Always an avid recreational runner and marathoner, Iwas on the treadmill recently, with fellow runners on either side. We were training hard and goading each other to go farther and faster when suddenly, they both stopped and declared that they’d had enough. In between strides and with a chiding smile, I asked how far they’d gone and the response was 6.5 miles. I challenged them to go farther. They replied that 6 miles was the target—and the furthest they’d ever gone. “Get back on that machine and make it to 7,” was my reply! They did, and we laughed, enjoying the competitive camaraderie.

The treadmill is really just a metaphor for life. Early on, I came to appreciate that it takes discipline, mental strength, and support to focus and maintain your energies on achieving the desired results.

Throughout my career, I’ve been the very fortunate recipient of great coaching and mentoring from colleagues and friends. I’ve been surrounded by people on whom I could lean for sound and encouraging advice. These people—my personal network can be counted on to constantly challenge my capacities in an honest and productive manner.

The educational choices I made early on facilitated a career in finance. After graduating from Boston College, I went into public accounting, earned my CPA, and went on for my MBA. Then I moved into management roles with diverse and increasing responsibilities. Wise coaching and challenges from my most trusted mentors helped me realize that being flexible to opportunities which veered from my original path, while sometimes scary, not only helps build skills, but also allows you to discover interests and abilities you might not have otherwise considered.

As my career has evolved, I’ve found that it’s even more gratifying to be on the giving end of a mentoring relationship. Guiding and inspiring others to set and stretch goals and achieve them carry meaningful rewards. My involvement serves as a catalyst and sounding board along the way, but their true success comes from within.

Demonstrating strong leadership means working hard to uncover the best solutions and most optimal paths for pursuing those outcomes. Challenges and struggles are a reality and also an opportunity. Our reactions will be the differentiator that sets truly successful leaders apart from the rest.