“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of the death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (Psalm 23-4).
We all go through difficult times—we are all human. What differentiates us is how we react to adversity—some of us will crumble beneath the weight and others will be strengthened by it.
Harvard Business Review (January-February 2010) has an article called “How to Bounce Back from Adversity” by Margolis and Stoltz.
The article defines psychological resilience as “the capacity to respond quickly and constructively in a crisis.” A challenge indeed, when at the depths of the crisis, we feel “paralyzed by fear, anger, confusion, or a tendency to assign blame.”
It is certainly understandable that those suffering under crisis conditions can succumb to feelings of depression, helplessness, and perhaps hopelessness. The vision of all they do have—faith, family, friends, and more—becomes obscured by the darkness of a bad situation, which they cannot seem to see through in those moments. Hence, the saying when there is hope again for “seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”
The authors define resilient managers as those that can “shift quickly from endlessly dissecting traumatic events to looking forward, determining the best course of action given new realities. They understand the size and scope of the crisis and the levels of control and impact they may have in a bad situation.”
When something bad happens, there is a natural period of shock and despair, which is part of the healing process. If someone doesn’t react to the pain of a situation, there is probably a lot more to worry about, then if they do cry out. But resiliency means that like the analogy with children who fail off a horse, “you get right back up and ride again.” You feel the bruise on your buttocks, but you shake it off and go on to ride on—you go on to fight another day.
Leaders when faced with challenges cannot fail back into their chair and close the door for long, because others are waiting outside for their direction. While we all need to resiliency to persevere, a leader has a special need for resiliency, because others are looking to them for a way forward. The actions of the leader affect not only him/her, but also the people they are charged with. So the trait of resiliency is especially important for leaders.
Demonstrating leadership means quickly moving to “response-oriented thinking—actions to improve, impact, and contain the situation. This is in contrast to “cause-oriented thinking”—which instead focuses on a “woe is me” attitude and asking over and over again “why is this happening?”
Time waits for no one, especially someone in a leadership position. The message of hope for our organizations from leadership is that we “replace negativity with creativity and resourcefulness, and get things done despite real or perceived obstacles.”
Why do leaders have trouble with responding in crisis as well as acting proactively to prevent it?
Certainly, one big issue is the fear of acting or reacting badly. This is the misguided thinking that it is better to do nothing and “be safe”—not make mistakes and not be blamed (i.e. take the heat)—then to do something and be accountable for the results—good or bad.
Difficulty rebounding from crisis can be seen as understandable – rooted in the desire for self-preservation. After all, crisis management takes strong action, and it is easy to take potshots at the leader, and turnover among senior executives tends to be high. Unfortunately, we tend to back away from leaders who make strong and difficult choices, and so we end up with crazy organizations—where just sitting in the chair and not “making a mistake” perpetuates a paycheck. This situation leads to a de-prioritization of the organization’s real needs, which is, to put it mildly, unfortunate.
One lesson that I’ve absorbed from working in law enforcement, is that you do what needs to be done for others first and deal with your own needs later. Law enforcement and first responders in general are the ones who you see running to the scene of trouble, when everyone else is running away. That is real “response-thinking” and I believe it teaches us a lesson about how leaders of any organization can respond to crises and rebound effectively.