In every defeat and in every failure are the seeds of greatness. It is less about what happens to you as a leader than what you do with what happens that matters. Great leaders are resilient and know how to adjust quickly in the face of adversity.
When faced with hardship it is not uncommon to find yourself in denial or disbelief. You may find yourself wondering less about how to get out the situation and more about how you got into it in the first place just like US Airways pilot Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. Celebrated for his coolness in ditching an Airbus 320 in the Hudson River following a bird strike, Sullenberger has shared a critical observation, “…everything I had done in my career,” he said, “had in some way been a preparation for that moment.”
Preparing for both success and failure fuels your ability as a leader to bounce back quickly and to bring order to difficult circumstances. Understanding failure creates the essential framework for successful change and innovation. But if not managed correctly, it can create doubt, damage self-esteem and cripple your leadership skills.
The Road to Resilience a white paper produced by the American Psychological Association identifies six essential steps to maintaining your resilience as a person and as a leader. They include: taking decisive actions; looking for opportunities for self-discovery; nurturing a positive view of yourself; keeping things in perspective; maintaining a hopeful outlook and taking care of yourself.
Remember you chose leadership for a reason. As “Sully” Sullenberger reminds us, “…people are best served when they find their passion early on, because we tend to be good at things we’re passionate about.” Get back in the game. Now!
As many of you know, my latest research interest is the intersection of leadership decision-making and outcomes for associations. It’s my longstanding hypothesis that associations often stumble (sometimes badly) because they rarely measure and test the quality and nature of their decision-making which results in poorer quality outcomes than might be expected. Group input is good. Group decision-making perhaps not so much. While we often lament the glacial speed of decision making in associations, the flip side is that the veritable alphabet soup of characters able to exert influence on decision-making virtually assures a less than optimum outcome for associations and their members.
I’m happy to say that ASAE and the Center through Associations Now magazine has taken notice of my thinking in this regard and have chosen to publish my latest article Escalating Into Oblivion as part of their ongoing series Lessons From Failure. The new developing literature on leadership decision-making and the mysteries of the brain offer all sorts on exciting insights into the possibilities that with a bit more focus, analysis and attention to the inherent biases around us, we can produce considerably better results for our members, our organizations and ourselves. For me at least that’s a mystery worth diving into. I hope you agree.
I watched Spike Lee’s HBO documentary When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts again for about the nine hundredth time. The stories are powerfully haunting and heartbreaking still. Hurricane Katrina laid bare the enormous cost and curse of poor leadership. The lessons about democracy in failure, race, class, the power of the media, and the limitations of local, county, state and federal governments are all captured by the unblinking lens of the filmmaker’s camera.
Sometimes it seems as though bad news, gets overrun by terrible news, only to be trampled by horrific news. According to the Pew Center for the People and the Press on an average day 81% of Americans access news. We see news everywhere. And news itself is a big business. CNN, the all-news-all-the-time network has an annual compound growth rate of about 20% and profits of almost $400 million a year. The constant demand to keep eyeballs glued to televisions, newsprint and increasingly the Internet is an important driver of ad revenues and media profits. The predictable result is a veritable flood of stories–the good, bad and ugly flow rapidly and repeatedly to hold our attention. And some stories–important, life changing stories get lost in the ever changing currents of the news stream.
When it comes to stories left behind, the destruction of New Orleans as a result of Hurrican Katrina tops the list for me. Why? Well largely it’s because the destruction of New Orleans represents such extraordinary tragedy and human failure on so many different levels—individual, institutional and governmental. And partly because New Orleans offers cautionary lessons to not-for-profit organizations and their leaders from the likes of the Red Cross. New Orleans stands as a testament to the power of hope and faith. The renewal of city neighborhoods offers vital lessons about the importance of fresh, innovative approaches to leadership in the face of major disaster and its aftermath.
So what are the big lessons learned? If you were teaching future leaders, what wisdom or insight would you offer? What would you tell them? What can we take away from this extraordinary disaster and what can we as leaders offer in reflection in its place now some three years later? What do you think we’ve learned? We know we can do better. The question that haunts me still is how much?