Leadership Principles For Strength in Hard Times

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The last 18 months since the beginning of the year 2020 were the most traumatic period for most people in the world, as people were faced with downturn in business performance, huge job losses, as well as loss of almost four million lives worldwide, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The period could be described as a fragile period of Disruption, Volatility, Uncertainty, Chaos, Ambiguity, Risks and Diversity (DVUCARD).

Leaders are influencers of their ecosystems. The period was also a period of great transformations for agile leaders, who explored the opportunity of the crisis to demonstrate Direction, Vision, Understanding, Clarity, Agility, Resilience and celebrate Diversity – (DVUCARD) to address the challenges respectively, resulting in significant impact on the way we work and live. People became more creative, and innovative ways were introduced to lessen the burden of restrictions imposed on us all by the global pandemic.

Sometimes during hard times, you have to die a little on the inside first, in order to be reborn and rise again as a stronger, smarter version of yourself. What many consider as failure is actually falling forward; representing a great opportunity to learn.

 

Nobody gets through life without some hard times, losing someone they love, someone they need, or something they thought was meant to be. But it is these losses that make us stronger and eventually move us toward future opportunities for growth and happiness.

 

Over the past years many have survived several hardships, including the sudden death of siblings, loss of a best friend to illness, betrayals from a business partner, and an unexpected (breadwinning) employment layoff. These experiences were brutal. Each of them, naturally, knocked people down and off course for a period of time. But when the time of mourning is over in each individual circumstance, leaders will naturally press forward, stronger, and with a greater understanding and respect for life.

 

During my few years so far on earth, I have experienced having to work from about the age of seven, while in primary school, to meet some of my needs. I have worked in various jobs to meet growing needs – as a sales boy at a fashion store; a vendor, selling newspapers; and a letter-setter at in a printing press. My wife and I tried but experienced “falling forward” in wholesale business. So, I worked in other businesses like pharmaceuticals, laundry, dry-cleaning, fumigation, facility management, telecoms, consulting, teaching etc.

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Here are some leadership lessons learn during the hard times along the way:

 

You are not what happened to you in the past.

No matter how chaotic the past has been, the future is a clean, fresh, wide open slate. You are not your past habits. You are not your past failures (“falling forward”). You are not how others have, at one time or the other, treated you. You are only who you think you are right now in this moment. You are only what you do right now in this moment.

 

Focus on what you have, not on what you haven’t.

You are who you are and you have what you have, right now. You have God-given Special gifts, passion of the Heart, Abilities, Personality, Experiences (SHAPE), as well as Talents, Treasures and Time (3Ts). You need to make the right choice today to transform your leadership or influence your own ecosystem. And it can’t be so terrible; otherwise you wouldn’t be able to read this.

The important thing is simply to find one POSITIVE thought that inspires and helps you move forward. Hold on to it strongly, and focus on it. You may feel like you don’t have much, or anything at all, but you have your mind to inspire you. And that’s really all you need to start moving forward again.

Struggling with problems is a natural part of growing.

Part of living and growing up is experiencing unexpected troubles in life. People lose jobs, get sick, and sometimes die in car accidents. When you were younger, and things were going pretty well, this harsh reality might have been hard to visualise.

The smartest, and oftentimes hardest, thing we can do in these kinds of situations is to be tempered in our reactions – to want to scream obscenities, but to be wiser and more disciplined than that. To remember that emotional rage only makes matters worse. And to remember that tragedies are rarely as bad as they seem, and even when they are, they give us an opportunity to learn and grow stronger.

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It’s okay to fall apart for a little while.

You don’t always have to pretend to be strong, and there is no need to constantly prove that everything is going well. You shouldn’t be concerned with what other people are thinking either. Cry, if you need to – it’s healthy to shed your tears. The sooner you do, the sooner you will be able to smile again. And a smile doesn’t always mean a person is happy. Sometimes it simply means they are strong enough to face their problems.

Life is fragile, sudden, and shorter than it often seems.

There may not be a tomorrow – not for everyone. Right now, someone on earth is planning something for tomorrow without realising they’re going to die today. This is sad but true. So spend your time wisely today and pause long enough to appreciate it. Every moment you get is a gift. Don’t waste time by dwelling on unhappy things. Spend it on things that move you in the direction you want to go.

You will fall forward sometimes.

The faster you accept this, the faster you can get on with being brilliant. You’ll never be 100 per cent sure it will work, but you can always be 100 per cent sure doing nothing won’t work. Doing something and getting it wrong is, at least, ten times more productive than doing nothing. So, get out there and try! Either you succeed, or you learn a vital lesson failing forward. It’s a win-win.

You have the capacity to create your own happiness.

Feelings change, people change, and time keeps rolling. You can hold onto past mistakes or you can create your own happiness. A smile is a choice, not a miracle. Don’t make the mistake of waiting for someone or something to come along and make you happy. True happiness comes from within.

Emotionally separate yourself from your problems.

You are far greater than your problems. You are a living, breathing human being, who is infinitely more complex than all of your individual problems added up together. And that means you’re more powerful than them – you have the ability to change them, and to change the way you feel about them.

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Don’t make a problem bigger than it is.

You should never let one dark cloud cover the entire sky. The sun is always shining on some part of your life. Sometimes you just have to forget how you feel, remember what you deserve, and keep pushing forward.

Everything that happens is a life lesson.

Everyone you meet, everything you encounter, etc. – is part of the learning experience we call ‘life.’ Never forget to acknowledge the lesson, especially when things don’t go your way. If you don’t get a job that you wanted or a relationship doesn’t work, it only means something better is out there waiting. And the lesson you’ve just learnt is the first step towards it.

View every challenge as an educational assignment.

Ask yourself: “What is this situation meant to teach me?” Every situation in our lives has a lesson to teach us. Some of these lessons include: To become stronger. To communicate more clearly. To trust your instincts. To express your love. To forgive. To know when to let go. To try something new.

Things change, but the sun always rises the next day.

The bad news: nothing is permanent. The good news: nothing is permanent.

Giving up and moving on are two very different things.

There comes a point when you get tired of chasing everyone and trying to fix everything, but it’s not giving up, and it’s not the end. It’s a new beginning. It’s realising, finally, that you don’t need certain people and things and the drama they bring.

Distance yourself from negative people.

Every time you subtract the negative from your life you make room for more positive. Life is too short to spend time with people who suck the happiness out of you. Let go of negative people, for they are the greatest destroyers of self-confidence and self-esteem. Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you.

Perfect relationships don’t exist.

There’s no such thing as a perfect, ideal relationship. It’s how two people deal with the imperfections of a relationship that makes it ideal.

Prof. Lere Baale is Director, Business School Netherlands Lagos (BSN).

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