…or maybe this week, month, or year has been. Did you catch this the other day after the completion of the Masters? After giving up a large lead on the final day of golf’s biggest stage, a 21-year-old had this to say:
I’m blessed to be able to work with one of Missouri’s best most talented groups of boys and girls high school hurdlers at Liberty High School, just north of Kansas City. Around our training group, we have a saying: “It rarely ever goes perfectly.” In a 100/110 meter or 300 meter hurdle race, these talented kids get hundreds of things right, but we train and race with the knowledge that almost no race is going to go 100% perfectly from blocks to finish line. Something is going to go wrong for every athlete that steps up to the starting line. There are just too many variables for something not to get slightly goofed up. Someone is bound to hit a hurdle, get a bad start, get hit by the runner in the next lane, fall, get knocked off rhythm by the wind, etc. You get the picture. The person who ends up being most successful is the person who is prepared to find a way through the adversity and to the finish line.
The same principal is true for leaders, whether you’re a coach, manager, CEO, pastor, or parent. As a leader, the success or failure of that which we lead will inevitably be tested by adversity and difficulty. Here are 5 things that I think are key to being able to maintain a posture of leadership when everything seems to be falling apart around you:
- Be prepared beforehand – I make my hurdlers visualize, vocalize, and practice everything that could go wrong. By the end of the season, they’re ready for whatever may be thrown at them. It also means that by the end of the season, we’re not fazed when adversity strikes. The best way to be prepared to respond to whatever adversity may blindside you is to not be blindsided at all. As a leader, it’s your job to make sure your team has thought through, planned for, and rehearsed beforehand how you’re going to respond when said difficulty arrives.
- Don’t let stopping be your default response – For a young hurdler, the knee-jerk reaction to hitting a hurdle or getting out of rhythm in practice is to stop. Come race time, stopping shouldn’t ever be an option. The same should be true for you and your team. When something difficult comes your way, though everything inside you may want to hang your head and admit defeat, stopping should not be a choice.
- Don’t lose sight of your purpose – In the midst of some unseen difficulty, a “woe-is-me” attitude has the potential to cause even the best athletes and leaders to lose sight of where they’re headed and why. Sure, you may need to adjust the goals (if a hurdler falls, they probably aren’t going to win the race or get that best time) or restructure the timeline. Flexibility is key at this point, but adversity shouldn’t cause you to lose sight of the ultimate vision and purpose for the group you’re leading.
- Reflect on what happened – The difficulties that may beset you and your team, as brutal as they may be, are probably not unique. What happened to you and your team may happen again in the future. If you don’t take time to reflect on what happened, how you did at handling it, and what you could have done differently, then the results will be the exact same the next time something goes wrong. As a leader, you owe it to yourself and to your team to make sure that you grow through the adversity and are a better leader on the backside. After a race I make my athletes tell me what happened and how they can do a better job of being prepared and responding next time. After all, our next race is never more than a week away. Sometimes it may be a few events away later that night.
- Realize that sometimes, success is having made it to the finish line – As competitive athletes, my hurdlers hate losing. They hate not getting best times. They hate feeling like they’ve let themselves, their parents, their teammates, or their coach down. Sometimes, the adversity that strikes in the midst of a race is so bad that simply having gotten up and made it to the finish line is worthy of celebrating, remembering, and being proud. As leaders, we hate falling short of the goal, missing the mark, or not seeing the vision carried all the way through. But, understand that some adversity may come your way that is so taxing and so difficult that merely persevering with your team, company, or family intact and as healthy as possible can be is a victory in itself. When this happens, I always remind my kids that there’s another race coming. The same is true for you. There will be more time to accomplish what your team wanted to do. There will be more opportunities to lead that team or that corporation. In times of strong challenge and adversity, just getting through it provides you with the chance to grow, regroup, recommit to what it is that you set out to do initially, and then refocus on making it happen once you’ve survived whatever ordeal has beset you.
Part of being a leader is growing – both yourself and your team. Facing adversity is the fertile ground that allows that growth to happen. Whatever you’re leading isn’t going to go perfectly. In the end, your ultimate success – long term – will be defined by how you responded when stuff fell apart.
Our 21-year-old golfing friend, Rory, understands that. Do you?
Written by Tim Fritson, Youth Pastor at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Liberty, MO and a track coach at Liberty High School. You can follow Tim on Twitter.