It’s time to share some insights that I’ve gained over the past eight months—the most challenging and interesting months in my career. I wish I had understood these insights better back in March or April when I could have shared them and helped others. But at that point, they just hadn’t worked on me long enough. It’s not till now that I feel can get them into words.
There are two key concepts that I’ve found helpful as I worked to lead myself and my team through this year. The first I learned long ago but forgot because I never really needed to use it. (Thus the expression that we often need reminders more than instruction.) The second is a new insight and comes from a client who shared it after attending a conference..
The First—The Stockdale Paradox
In Good to Great, Jim Collins unpacks his belief that great leaders (Level 5 leaders) do the same thing that Admiral James Stockdale did to survive as the longest held POW from the Vietnam War. After surviving seven years of imprisonment and torture, both physical and mental, Stockdale came to believe that those who faired best weren’t the optimists or the pessimists, but the people who did these two things: deal honestly with the brutal facts AND never lose faith. We don’t often see those things together.
Stockdale said that the optimists who set a goal like being rescued by Christmas didn’t do well when Christmas came and went and they were still there.
However, those who had a strong inner belief that they would survive and one day be freed, even if that day would be years away, were the ones that kept their resilient spirit alive. Collins believes this is true of great leaders and that it applies right now more than ever. I agree and I’m working to take that approach in my spirit and actions. We’re in this battle for the long haul, and so far, so good!
The Second—Making Promises, Not Predictions
As you may recall from LEAD 24/7, uncertainty and the unknown causes a lot of anxiety for most people. These past eight months have been ripe with uncertainty. No one can tell us when things will get back to normal, or if that can even happen.
As a way to focus on something that can be certain some leaders work to focus on things they do know and also to make promises they believe they can keep. These include promises to themselves and promises to those they lead.
For me, as a believer in the God of the Bible, I’ve chosen to trust in God’s promises made to me and all believers. This has helped me immensely. Just when it looked like so many things I care about could fall apart—my family’s health, my 401K, my company, my team, our clients, and our current LEAD 24/7 participants—I chose to believe God is real and chose to believe that God would guide us through this uncertain time. (Maybe all times are a lot less certain than what we tend to believe.) Slowly, the path forward started to show up and greater certainty unfolded. But through every step, my promise to lean on God kept me calm and clear in my thinking. If you are someone who doesn’t believe in God, you can search yourself to find what you do believe in and then lean on that in a big way!
I’ve also been working on what I can promise my team, regardless of what happens in the economy and in our country. One of those promises is to look at our finances and let them know how far out we can definitely survive. Thankfully, due to past conservative practices with our money, we can survive, and even thrive, for many months to come.
Another promise I made is that I would work to leverage this unique time to make our future even brighter than it would have been without the pandemic and shutdown. Thankfully, my team has also promised to join me in this pursuit.
I’m still working at how to use this new concept of focusing more on promises and less on predictions. My instinct is that this can be yet another characteristic that could help me be a person worth following. I look forward to getting better at it so it will serve me, and us, the next time we are looking straight in the face of uncertainty.
I hope these thoughts are helpful. Not only because we care about you, but also because our mission depends on each of you being a great leader here in West Michigan.
Lead a great week!
Image by GlacierNPS. Public Domain.