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Leadership Thought #452 – 4 Things to Get You Through Tough Times

October 7, 2013

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We all must navigate tough times.  No one lives a turbulence-free life although the bumps certainly vary in intensity.

I was talking to my son the other day about his schoolwork and some frustrations he was having.  He is a good kid and is in all honors classes.  I have noticed though, as the years go on, that school which was once relatively easy and fun for him has become much more of a chore.  While not commenting on the varying degrees of teacher quality we have encountered along the way (which is troubling), he is going through something we all go through in life.  Our individual curve is rarely always upward sloping and not everything comes easy for us.  Sure, some people are blessed in certain aspects of life, but we all hit periods of frustration, disappointment, and/or low motivation.  When you have a passion or care about something, it is much easier to marshal the energy required to work through the rough patches.  When it is something, you must do rather than want to do, it is not always so easy.

During the conversation with my son, we discussed four things that help you get through tough times: Ability, Humility, Effort and Attitude:

First, we are all born with natural abilities and strengths that make us who we are.  It is important to do the self-assessment and reflection required to know what this is for each of us.  Often, leveraging these strengths will get you through anything.  By contrast, spending too much time mired in your weaknesses is a waste of time.  Leaders who get too fixated on their weaknesses end up spinning their wheels more often than they need to.  It is okay to not be especially gifted at something if you are aware of this and act accordingly.  For example, my son is not great with details, but he can always see the big picture and where things are headed.  Instead of trying to work through the details, he needs to step back and begin with the end in mind.  The steps will become clearer once he knows where the class or assignment is going.  He can then use his great people skills to collaborate with others who supplement his skills and/or ask for the right type of help from the teacher once he has this clarity.

This leads to my second point, the importance of humility. No one expects you to know it all.  In fact, we are usually put-off by people who come across this way.  It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help, but instead strength.  The leaders I see who struggle the most in life are those who are reticent to ask for help and leverage the strengths of others.  They may have a good run for a period, but their ego becomes the biggest obstacle in their life.  The gaps usually show up first in their personal relationships because friends and family are less likely to tolerate this type of behavior than people who are beholden to you for a job.  Businesses tend to take off once the leader realizes they don’t have to be the center or source of all judgment and decision making.

Third, the amount of effort you put into something typically correlates with the outcomes you get.  Lazy people usually get marginal or sub-par results.  Unfortunately, you can be very gifted and lazy, and this catches up with you with time.  When I hear a leader tell me they always work best under pressure (especially on critical issues), I know right away that this is a person who only puts forth the effort when they must (which is inadvisable).  Sure, you may get lucky occasionally, but talent is always vulnerable to others who are better prepared and work harder at being better.  .  Often, you just need to roll up your sleeves and do the sustained work to excel at something.

Finally, attitude is a critical component of success. To paraphrase Henry Ford, “If you think you can or think you can’t, you are probably right.”  I rarely see people with a bad attitude excel at anything.  However, individuals who can “will” themselves through anything with the right attitude have often surprised me.  Resilience is a critical character trait that we all need to cultivate in life and the first step is believing you are capable of handling whatever comes your way.  Moreover, you must embrace rather than resist the challenges that await you in life.  That doesn’t mean you don’t get sad, angry, or frustrated occasionally, but that you don’t get mired in this thinking to your long-term detriment.

I believe that people who understand what they are naturally good at and use this to their advantage minimize the negative consequences of their pride and ego and ask for help when needed. They put forth the requisite effort to do a job properly, and approach all of this with a positive attitude have very few real obstacles in life.   I am confident that my son or anyone’s child for that matter, can effectively deal with whatever barriers life puts in their path if we as parents are guiding them in the right way.  Moreover, as leaders we need to model the behavior we should want to see in others and ourselves. Understanding ability, humility, effort, and attitude are a good place to start.