Welcome All!

If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Leadership, Perseverance, and Resilience

"There are no easy businesses. Every single one is hard. Having perseverance means, most critically, persevering through failure. I love to talk about my successes, but the only way that I’ve ever learned anything is through failure." 
- Martin Cooper, inventor of the cell phone

Another of the many possible introductions to this topic is Theodore Roosevelt, born in Manhattan in 1858. “Teedie”, as he was called, was said to be a beautiful baby with strong, intelligent parents. It should have been an idyllic childhood but Teedie, was not as healthy as he appeared. He continuously suffered from severe asthma, coughs, fevers, nausea and diarrhea. He was small and thin, became malnourished, and was often forced by his asthma to sleep sitting up in chairs. Several times, he came dangerously close to dying from lack of oxygen. Not to paint too negative a picture, Teedie was an active boy and had a fantastic personality. He was full of curiosity about nature and led expeditions of cousins to find squirrels, snakes, and anything that could be dissected. His asthma confined him and turned him to books, which he devoured throughout his life. He was sickly but did not suffer from a lack of desire to live.

When he was thirteen he noticed that his friends where reading a billboard that he didn't realize had writing on it, and so it was discovered that he was very nearsighted. During a trip to the country due to asthma Teedie was bothered by boys and could not defend himself. He told his father he wanted to learn to box. By the time he went to Harvard, he was a healthier Teddy and a regular winner of athletic contests. The rest is history. Teedie Roosevelt became a successful New York assemblyman, the New York commissioner of police, Assistant secretary of the Navy, the Governor of New York, best-selling author, and the youngest president of the United States.

The big question here: How is it that someone so sickly should become so healthy, vigorous, and successful? Why is it that some children or adults, sickly or not, thrive, while others wither away? What does it take to overcome adversity and thrive despite multiple or long-term set-backs? Was Roosevelt’s drive specific for him or is it something that lies within each of us? There are many approaches to these questions. One of them is by a young Viennese physician named Alfred Adler who was intrigued by these kinds of questions. It led him to develop his theory, called Individual Psychology. Adler stated that a “striving for perfection” is the single drive or motivating force behind all our behavior and experience. (Could this be one part of the workings behind: “If I can’t be the best at something good I’ll be the best and something bad” that we see in some children and adults?). Adler was influenced by the writings of Jan Smuts, the South African philosopher and statesman who believed that we have to view people more as unified wholes than as a collection of bits and pieces and that we have to understand them in the context of their environment, both physical and social. This approach that Adler took very much to heart is now widely known as holism.

A second foundation of Adler’s approach is the idea of social interest or social feeling. As social animals, we simply don't exist, much less thrive, without others and without considering our social environment. Adler felt that social concern was not simply inborn, nor just learned, but a combination of both: It is based on an innate disposition, but it has to be nurtured to survive, with the lack of social concern constituting the heart of mental ill-health.

Back to our present day leaders, back to you and your perseverance, resilience, and choices:
1.    How does your social concern relate to personal concern?
2.    When were you last confronted with failure and what effect did it have on you?
3.    Do you bounce back from failure and do you know how to learn from mistakes?
4.    Are you able and willing to make midcourse corrections?
5.    Are you willing to amend a belief that has become an obstacle?
6.    Are you capable of rising above the doom and gloom and succeed in the face of some insurmountable circumstances in a timely way?

Even great leaders make mistakes. Of course they do. They are humans too. Great leaders distinguish themselves from the rest by inner strength to face their failures graciously and turn them into lessons learned, not worrying obsessively about their ego nor about looking good in the eyes of stakeholders and faking to be infallible. They are guided more by values, vision, purposeful living, and a holistic view of the world than by personal superiority and success alone. And this exactly makes them personally successful most of the time.

A last note on holism. We all seem to understand that rising food prices or oppressive regimes, to name just two examples, are related to poverty, disease, unhappiness, and unrest and that they can lead to protests – violent or peaceful – which in turn may jeopardize political stability and even ignite shifts in political systems as we are witnessing this very moment. But we also understand that many more other factors need to be in place for such a change to occur - we see the holistic workings behind these processes and their chain reactions. To what extent do you apply this system thinking or holistic approach to yourself, your choices, your leadership? It does matter who you surround yourself with, it does matter how you treat everyone in your organization, it does matter what food you eat (but be assured, no culinary advice here) and what business rituals you choose and it does matter what vision, purpose, and values you formulate and how you act upon them.

Leadership is diverse, challenging, complex, exciting, tough, surprising, and a “gutsy business”. In case you need some encouragement, look around you, and see the person struggling with addiction, overcoming hurdle by hurdle and at times, falling back, but often getting up when being knocked down. Look and see the many elderly people taking their increasingly failing bodies with its effects on daily living graciously and focusing on meaning and purpose in the latter part of their lives. Look and see the single parent working multiple jobs or odd hours to combine childrearing with generating income while sacrificing personal needs and wishes to provide for their children in the best possible way they can. Look and see victims of natural disaster upon disaster. They continue to live, often against all odds, generally emerging stronger and more determined than before. Look and see how they creatively adjust to their circumstances and how they show the inner strength to continue and to persevere, sometimes against all odds, just like great leadership requires.

If you are looking for additional inspiration I recommend clips on Dick and Rick Hoyt - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPSUrR3ipQc or on Nick Vujicic - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciYk-UwqFKA .If you love books just like I do you can read Helen Keller’s autobiography or any of the other amazing stories on bouncing back and resilience. More on the specifics of resilience in one of my next essays on my blog.

No comments:

Post a Comment