“He was not born a king of men … but a child of the common people, who made himself a great persuader, therefore a leader by dint of firm resolve, patient effort and dogged perseverance … he was open to all impressions and influences and gladly profited by the teachings of events and circumstances no matter how adverse of unwelcome. There was probably no year when he was not a wiser, cooler, and better man than he had been the year preceding” (Horace Greeley, referring to Abraham Lincoln).
Probably no leader in our country’s history overcame more obstacles than Abraham Lincoln. He profited from them to become the 16th president of the United States. No event he faced was fruitless; there was a lesson to be learned.
In our high-tech, fast-paced, rapidly changing world, adversity is hitting us at speeds significantly faster than ever, leaving us little time to respond and arming us with far too few tools for controlling our responses in a productive manner. When an individual lacks the tools to handle challenges, it’s easy for him or her to become frustrated, averse to risk and afraid. These attributes are not conducive to successful leadership.
Just like Lincoln, business leaders today must be prepared to face, overcome and at least learn from adversity. Creating a culture with that attitude is a must. This approach will help leaders and their organizations not only survive but thrive in these highly turbulent times. This is the new form of gaining a competitive advantage.
Here are four important steps successful business leaders must master in these fast-paced, ever-evolving times.
1. Create a Culture of Acceptance and Acknowledgment.
The first key for any great leader to do is accept that adversity is going to strike. Negative events are going to happen, so be prepared, and don’t be alarmed and/or frustrated. Next, leaders must acknowledge that adversity is meant to occur, and hence leveraged to advantage. We tend to learn the greatest lessons when adversity strikes, if our mindset is right. The bottom line is that adversity is placed in our lives for us to evolve. Any great leader realizes this truth and leverages situations to his or her advantage. It is how an organization grows.
2. Prepare People for Success.
Clearly defined roles and responsibilities and relevant training are critical. There must not be any gray areas regarding expectations or the skills to help employees meet them. The more leaders can prepare their team members for their respective roles, the more successful the organization will become. When some employees lack the relevant skills to do their jobs, they won’t have the skills to thrive daily, let alone when adversity strikes. One of the highest costs for any organization is turnover, mis-hires or unhappy employees. Investment in people is a must.
3. Prepare People to Learn from Failure.
The only way an organization can learn and grow is for it to be willing to attempt the unthinkable. A great leader encourages such an environment. Failure is not an organization’s worst result; stagnation is. Taking this approach alleviates this problem. By teaching that adversity, failure, change and conflict can paradoxically be catalysts for positive things and help us evolve into who we were born to be, this approach prepares the learner to succeed in today’s chaotic environment.
4. Create a Culture of Reflection.
The key to handling an adverse situation is to learn from it. Organizations must be prepared to be reflective so they build a history and learn from and leverage their lessons. This reflection can come in the form of anything from debriefing sales calls to adhering to strong professional development plans and consistent performance reviews for employees.
Leaders who can incorporate these four foundational pillars will create a competitive advantage for their team along with a culture where employees want to work.