I still learn about leadership every day. In this challenging economic climate I’m learning faster than ever and often from people who might not be considered traditional leaders. I’m learning from people who have lost their job. Their job represented the ability to feed their families, raise their kids the way they want, and achieve their own version of success. And now it’s gone.
Unfortunately, most of us have had discussions with friends or family, recently where we’ve heard the story of a lost job. Right after we hear the part about how they lost their job we will hear one of two things. Either they will describe all of the obstacles that keep them from moving forward or they will talk about the opportunity they have to find a great new career and how they are working to make that happen. In these conversations I learn whether or not these people are demonstrating one of the critical qualities that sets those who merely have the potential to lead, apart from those who actually do. Resilience. Every time I walk away from a conversation that sets an example for how I can deal with my own challenges more effectively, I know I just learned from a leader.
Every successful leader gets knocked off their feet occasionally and when they do, they get back up, brush themselves off, and take the next step forward. When I think back to the people that I’ve worked with who were able to take entire organizations in a new direction, what often stands out is that they dealt with the setbacks better than others. Leaders use tough situations as kindling to rebuild their own internal fire and understand how to help others do the same. They understand what it really means to lead.
There are many contrasting situations as well, people who have achieved positions of leadership but haven’t yet encountered real challenges along the way. Often, when the crisis does come, these people fall far and fast. They haven’t created the habit of resilience on their climb to the top and when they need to rely on it, it’s simply not there.
I was having a conversation with someone from a large family run business recently who was explaining to me how, as the leadership of the company had been passed down through the family, the culture of the business had shifted significantly. The family members who built the company led it very differently, with more clarity and a stronger sense of values than those who came after them. The current leaders were handed the reigns more because of who they were than what they had accomplished or the leadership they had demonstrated. These new leaders will be tested. How they respond will have everything to do with whether or not they earn the right to continue to lead.
There’s that old adage that anyone can steer a ship when the seas are calm. When the storm comes, that’s when real leadership is needed. During the economic meltdown many people are facing their own personal storm and one that has the ability to shake their confidence, dent their self-esteem and even alter their dreams. It also has to potential to increase their determination, rekindle their fire and create a better future than they ever imagined. During challenging times there are always leaders who emerge stronger and more capable because of how they choose to deal with those times. We need to make sure that we take the time to learn from them. They will teach us how to weather our own storms when they come. And maybe even understand why we need them.
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