The Resilient Leader

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Dear Colleague,

Points of View That Required a Resilient Response

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.” Charles Duell, U.S. Commission of Patents, 1899

“Sensible and responsible women do not want to vote.” President Grover Cleveland, 1905

“Guitar music is on the way out.” Decca Records after turning down a group called the Beatles, 1962

Difficult times, whatever their causes, come to everyone in the workplace. Entry level, mid-level, senior-level. No one is immune. It’s a given.

It could be discovering fraud within an organization or dealing with a long and relentless negative market force. Maybe it’s a series of poorly timed initiatives or a shortage of critical components that cause a loss in business. A natural disaster can disrupt the flow of goods or services for months. And a significant health problem will compromise our energy and efforts.

Sometimes these forces come together at the same time and it can be overwhelming and immobilizing. This is the crucible, the time of testing.

When we reclaim ourselves, we are changed. We find out what is really important in ourselves and in our business. It becomes a time to think differently, but it is often a period of painful personal growth.

Read on for the good news about resilient leaders. They are the ones that recover and actually triumph from setbacks, that lead with confidence, and respond by getting stronger and more determined than ever.

Personal business cycles are quite predictable. When everything is going our way, we think we are in control and quite brilliant. We have this neat little world that operates by our rules. We are making money, people are pretty happy, and we chalk it up to our abilities and talent.

Then tough times come, and our world is chaotic and fractured and we begin to doubt ourselves. Nothing seems to be working anymore. We keep putting water in the well and pumping like crazy, but not a single drop is coming out.

Meg Wheatley writes of leadership and nature. The worm’s eye view of a tornado, a hurricane, or any other natural disaster is all chaos. Nothing looks like it is predictable or controllable. But if you can get on top of it, above it, there are patterns and predictabilities; ones that are observable and that we can creatively address.

Rather than shutting down, opening up with a bird’s eye perspective helps us get back on top.

Tim Irwin, Ph.D., in his leadership book, Run with the Bulls without Getting Trampled, talks of high performers who gain altitude to maintain perspective.

“When I observe successful people, they emotionally detach themselves from their immediate context to get a higher view. They get off the field and into the skybox. The workplace is often fraught with emotion. Sometimes our interests get pitted against others’ when there are limited resources.

Perspective gives us a better view of the whole game and takes the focus off what is happening directly in front of us. Perspective helps us invent new solutions not normally recognizable under stress. It’s understandable why coaches on the field use their headsets to talk to their assistants in the skybox.”

In the midst of chaos, perspective and thereby resiliency are the keys to survival. In stressful times, Tim asks us to answer these questions:

  1. What is the real problem?
  2. What factors are obscuring the right answer to the problem?
  3. If I viewed this as an opportunity instead of a problem, what would be different?
  4. If this were my company and a solution put my own money at risk, what would I do?
  5. What could I change immediately, in six months, in a year?
  6. What risks must I take to propose a more encompassing solution to the problem?
  7. Are the potential benefits of the solution worth the risks?

Leadership is ultimately all about relationships, the care and feeding of those relationships, and building trust. Hibernation and isolation are poor strategies. People will make things up in the absence of information. Be available, be positive, communicate the good things about your company, and create time for people. Social skills will always rank higher than Internet skills.

As a leader, be the catalyst for moving forward and stay dynamic. If you or someone in your company has publicly stumbled, stay away from blame or self-recrimination.

In the dark nights of the soul, finding the leader within you protects you against all odds. It’s opting to fight not flee. It’s balancing stress through family, friends, hobbies, trusted advisors, creative pursuits, and not derailing to self-destructive behaviors. It is persevering in spite of naysayers and because of personal will.

The Strategic Coach, a firm that coaches entrepreneurs, provides an exercise where you write down the date you expect to die – say 85 – and then write down your current age. When you subtract the two, and look at how long you probably have to make a difference and recover from a difficult situation, a certain patience, forgiveness, and longer-term perspective occur.

Energy and determination allow you to stay whole and integrated. Humility and a down-to-earth openness allow you to learn. Continuing to take risks keeps you available for future success. Passages in business and professional upheavals will leave you changed and able to develop differently. Getting up just one more time than you fall, is the definition of resilience and long-term success.

Susan sig