Since the coronavirus pandemic, the rules have changed, and the old playbook leaders once turned to have fallen short. The unprecedented times have made leaders embark on a soul searching and business survival journey that many feel ill-prepared and -equipped to take. While there are no well-defined maps to navigate this crisis, our current leaders can draw inspiration from past leaders who defied the odds to find success. From David (the shepherd boy who brought down the giant Goliath) to 16th-century oceanic explorers who navigated the wild seas with rudimentary tools to discover new lands.
It is wonderful to have 2020 in the rearview mirror, but the road to economic recovery and pre-COVID-19 normal is still long and full of bends. In these trying times, now more than ever, people are looking up to leaders to find direction, inspiration, and solutions. Leaders bear a heavy burden as instruments of change during this volatile, uncertain, ambiguous, and complex environment.
An orchestra comprises many instruments playing together in harmony. Similarly, leaders can leverage their leadership instruments of self-awareness, overcoming mindset, embracing challenges, and using their teams’ collective power to win during these challenging times. Below are the leadership instruments that leaders can use to navigate their journey:
Self Awareness: Know thyself. Leaders need clarity of purpose, courage, and a deep self-awareness to navigate turbulent times. The biblical story of David and Goliath is well-known. David brought down Goliath, a giant and champion of the Philistine army, with just a slingshot. The military offered David other weapons of war, but he chose to use his slingshot. It was the weapon that felt authentic to him. When times are hard and the future seems uncertain, leaders can start with who they are. Knowing who you are, your core values, and the gifts you possess will help you lead through difficult times.
If you want to improve your environment, the place to start is to improve yourself. When you change your mindset, behaviors, actions, and conversations, your organization will follow suit. Change is an outer expression of an inner transformation. Be the example for others that all aspects of the organization need to be open to change. Being an example is a powerful way to pull others up with you.
Choose an Overcoming Mindset: If you drop an egg and tennis ball on a hard surface, the egg will break, while the tennis ball will bounce. The difference between the egg and tennis ball is their material composition. A leader’s mindset needs to be like the tennis ball and not the egg. The overcoming mindset is: no matter what happens, we will bounce back and not break during tough times.
Some of the most significant accomplishments have come from overcoming obstacles that seemed impossible. For example, David, the untrained shepherd boy, defeated the Philistine giant, Goliath. Kamala Harris ran for office and became the first African American and first Asian American female vice president. Over the centuries, the overcoming mindset drove explorers to sail across tumultuous seas to pursue happiness, freedom, and a better life in unknown lands.
Embrace the Challenge: Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, gave a show-stopping performance during the inauguration ceremony of U.S. President Joe Biden. One of the memorable lines from her poem, The Hill We Climb, was, “There is always light, if only we are brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” No one would have imagined that Amanda had a speech impediment in childhood. In her own words, “I always saw it as a strength because since I was experiencing these obstacles in terms of my auditory and vocal skills, I became really good at reading and writing.” Amanda turned her stumbling blocks into stepping stones by choosing to see the light in her situation.
The world is getting more unpredictable. As humans, we are hard-wired to resist change—it stirs anxiety and unease, and surfaces our fears. Resisting change can deny your organization of new possibilities and solutions. Like Amanda, embrace the challenge. Remember to give yourself and others grace to make mistakes, learn from them, and get up again.
“Change is inevitable. Growth is a choice”—Bob Proctor
Show Courage: Courage is not the absence of fear. It is acting despite fear. Rosa Parks, an American civil rights activist, said, “You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.” Rosa understood that courage is a leader’s down payment to enter the desired future.
During the early phases of the coronavirus pandemic, movie theaters were closed. Donna Langley, Chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, was heavily criticized by the theater industry for her decision to make theater movies available to online viewers. The risk paid off. For example, the Troll World Tour movie made more money in three weeks of its release online than the original film did during five months in theaters. Universal Pictures leveraged its success to renegotiate a better deal with the theater industry. Leading is a courageous act. It takes courage to do the right thing even when it isn’t popular.
Leaders change the trajectory of their organizations when they act boldly.
Leverage Your Team: Adversity can bring a team closer together or tear it apart. Leaders need to get their egos out of the way and leverage their teams’ collective power to address complex problems. Today’s challenges need teams with diverse perspectives and experiences to come up with out-of-the-box solutions. Gone are the days of command and control and when a leader had to be the smartest person in the room. To ask for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. The world needs more collaborative leaders than heroes. Great leaders don’t go it alone. In the words of Michael Jordan, “Talent wins games, but teams win championships.”
Tough times have a way of revealing a leader’s character. According to Philip McKernan, “One of the scariest things in the world is to stand in front of the mirror and meet yourself.” Regardless of whatever you see in the mirror, take it as an opportunity to learn and grow. As you embark on your growth journey, remember to develop your instruments of self-awareness, overcoming mindset, embracing challenges, showing courage, and leveraging your team. When played in harmony, these leadership instruments can turn noise into music, a mess into a message, and trials into triumphs. In the words of Robert Schuler, “Tough times do not last, tough people do.” You are the leader you have been waiting for.