These are tough times for many of us in leadership positions. Expectations continue to grow, and in many cases resources are dwindling. Some of the bureaucracies with which we have to work are incredibly dysfunctional, even to the point of causing harm. All true. Not exactly inspiring, right? But wait — there is more to this story — because even when a situation looks impossible on the surface, you as a leader still have the power to choose.
Okay, all you self-proclaimed “realists”out there who are rolling your eyes, hang with me here. This is not some Pollyanna pipe dream (although I am strongly wired as an optimist), but rather a path through the unavoidable tough stuff that a leader will face sooner or later. In Good to Great, Jim Collins refers to this as the Stockdale Paradox — the ability to confront the brutal facts, and yet never lose faith that you will make it to the other side of the crisis at hand.
Call it “pragmatic optimism,” if you will. If you don’t clearly understand the challenges at hand, it is far less likely that you will be able to make decisions that will get you to the other side. Dreamers talk eloquently about things getting better, they just tend to avoid wading through the messy stuff to get there. In my experience dreamers can quickly slide into helpless “oh-poor-me” territory — again, because they want things to fall into place without getting messy. You have the power to choose.
You can choose to look the big, bad, hairy situation before you in the eye — no sugar coating allowed — and honestly assess your situation. And I’ll let you in on a little secret. Rather than being depressing, that can actually boost your can-do spirit because you, and your people, instinctively know that you are getting ready to dig in and find a path forward. Seriously… the majority of people hate to hang out in oh-poor-me-land. They just need someone to show them the way forward. That’s where you, the leader, come in.
You can choose to put your boots on, get down into the muck, and find a path to solid ground, one step at a time. I’m not saying it is always quick and easy (that’s the dreamers line), but you can get there. And that knowledge should give you, and those you lead, a sense of optimism and possibility.
Don’t underestimate what you can accomplish, even in the most challenging of situations.
You always have the power to choose.
This entry was originally posted April 20, 2016.