Leading Through the Dark Days

Man-on-road“The first rule of leadership: Everything is your fault.” – A Bug’s Life

Do you remember when you were an individual contributor or “high potential” early in your career and you used to say “If I was the leader, I’d…” and you’d finish that sentence with a simple solution to the organization’s problems? Those were the days. It reminds me of the expert advice offered to parents by people without children. I often say “I was so much better at parenting until I had children.” The same is often true of leadership.

It all seems so easy from the outside. I keep checking my mailbox, but I have yet to receive the magical wand of power that I can waive over every challenge to create a solution. I even checked Amazon. No luck.

Often, being a leader means having responsibility, not power. You are responsible for your team, their goals, their success, and their failures. But you may not necessarily have power over any of it.

There will be times when there are more questions than answers. There will come a time when you’re required to carry on, even when senior leadership is stalled on an important decision. You may have to keep a team motivated even though it’s June and they still haven’t received their comp plans. Goals will be increased, contracts cancelled, expenses tightened, travel restricted, and yet you have to soldier on.

Those are dark days. Even when you know in your head that everything isn’t your fault, it may not feel that way in your heart.

In those moments when your team is looking to you for answers and help, and you have no information to give, you have to make a choice. You can choose to focus on the problems you can’t control, or you can use your energy on the things you can.

Influence what you can. And smile through the rest.

The biggest thing you control is your own attitude. Approach every day as if it’s the day when all the problems will be solved. Don’t just wish for success. Expect it. Plan for it. Don’t contribute to the chaos and negativity with your own frustrations. Be open and honest, but communicate a message of hope.

Positivity attracts positivity. When you create a positive, hopeful environment, people will remain engaged, productive, and creative in spite of daily challenges. You set the energy level and general mental outlook for your team. Make sure that outlook is designed for success.

You can’t truly appreciate the highs of leadership without overcoming the lows.

“An arrow can only be shot by pulling backwards. When life is dragging you back with difficulties, it is going to launch you into something so great. So just focus and keep aiming.”