The global economy continues to experience extreme volatility as we digest and react to what is arguably the most severe financial environment many of us have ever witnessed. The latest development, involving the proposed colossal intervention -– a.k.a. “bailout” – by the US government to ease an ever-expanding crisis, has not yet alleviated the markets’ fears. It also highlights some challenges that we face as citizens -– namely that we want quick and easy resolutions to our problems with minimal personal responsibility or accountability and that we have relatively low thresholds for pain and even less tolerance for failure.
We want the economy to be bailed out, but we don’t want to foot the bill. We want cheaper gas, but we want to continue to drive our vehicles of choice, eschew public transportation and equivocate when it comes to investments in alternative energy sources. We want to be homeowners, but we don’t want to have to save for a down payment or be bridled with uncomfortable mortgage payments. In essence, we want all the rewards with none of the accompanying risks or responsibility.
The role of the leader, however, is different. Challenges, difficulties and setbacks are all part of the package, and we must understand that these are essential components of standard business cycles, ongoing growth and development, and life in general. John McDonnell, former CEO of McDonnell Douglas, noted that “adversity introduces you to yourself.” Indeed, it makes you come face-to-face with your strengths, weaknesses and abilities to navigate sub-optimal conditions. And it is from the midst of the most challenging conditions that true leaders emerge. Remember if you will just how much adversity Oprah Winfrey confronted in her own life and how she chose to emerge from it all like a phoenix rising from the ashes.
Of course no one likes discomfort, let alone failure. But “the fastest way to succeed,” IBM’s Thomas Watson, Sr., once said, “is to double your failure rate.” The best leaders know that failure is a prerequisite to invention and innovation — in fact, Wes Ball suggests that leaders must nurture others through a failure. Our best products and processes tend to be launched by those willing to both take and encourage risk taking, current and future leaders who are open and able to learn from – and take responsibility for – the subsequent and inevitable mistakes. As Marion Jones’ story demonstrates, failure is not only acceptable but, in many ways, desirable for it rewards us with lessons that could not otherwise be learned.
Challenging times require resilience, an ability to tackle and overcome adversity despite all. Setbacks and upheavals can provide incredible opportunities for innovation and growth, if you’re up to the challenge. Leaders do not succumb to hardship; they acknowledge difficulties, learn from them and resolve to move forward.
Nina Nets It Out: “When nothing is sure, everything is possible.” – Margaret Drabble. Use these turbulent times to determine acceptable risk tolerance for your organizations, whether you are properly poised for less than ideal conditions, and how you can make the most out of the worst. Differentiate yourself with attitude and creativity. And remember — performance under pressure is a leadership prerequisite.