Here’s why so many leaders are failing at Resilience

Have you ever watched a traffic intersection with stop signs as cars come and go? As I was writing my latest book, Resilience Ready, that’s exactly what I did. My desk faced a wall of windows looking out onto a 4 way stop. And as a writer – I spent a lot of time looking out those windows searching for a bit of inspiration.

Some drivers would come to a complete stop and then proceed through the intersection in the order they arrived. Some would kindly let everyone else go, including pedestrians, before proceeding. Others refused to yield to oncoming cars or pedestrians at all.

When no other traffic was approaching, a few cars would roll right through the stop sign, barely slowing down; occasionally, drivers were unsure and indecisive, not knowing whether they were going straight or turning right.

Then there were the pedestrians, either strolling or in a hurry, walking dogs or riding bikes. Most were fairly cautious when crossing the street.

Yes, writing a book is exactly as glamorous as everyone imagines.

At this point you may be wondering where I’m going with this story. Trust me and stick around a bit longer.

When you approach an intersection, either driving or walking, you’re supposed to know how to proceed. You’re trained and preconditioned to understand how an intersection works… come to a complete stop; who goes first at a four-way stop; yield for pedestrians; watch for traffic in all directions before crossing the street. You do it all the time. The process has become intuitive, yet it still requires your attention and thoughtful consideration.

We know intersections.

But very few of us are trained or conditioned to navigate the intersections of a crisis.
There is no muscle memory to fall back on when crises occur because each crisis is different and certainly doesn’t follow a structured set of rules. Crises are by definition chaotic. We can’t approach them casually or callously. The process of dealing with crises requires high levels of attention and thoughtful consideration.

Emotions Add Complexity

Facing the intersection of a crisis can be quite emotional. Sometimes you respond purely from that emotion, rather than reason, which can create one of two outcomes:
You let your gut or intuition drive decisions around the path you take, much like you do when you’re driving a vehicle (that’s how you get lost). You go by what feels natural or comfortable. You lean on the experience you already have in making decisions, which can be helpful. But a crisis takes you into uncharted territory. Proceed with caution.

Or, you do nothing.

You get stuck in the indecision of whether to turn back or go forward. You’re paralyzed by fear, letting others go ahead and around you until it feels completely safe.

The fact is, the path will never be completely safe or certain. You have to take calculated risks to move forward, making adjustments as you go.

When teaching them to drive, John Hackett, former president of Kroger’s Louisville Division, told his children, “Just because the light is green, don’t assume the path is clear. Look both ways before proceeding.” That’s a good rule of thumb.

Why Resilient Leadership is Lacking

Growing up you weren’t taught how to get through a crisis with resilience, and it’s typically not taught in leadership development either. The stress of a crisis can easily escalate, challenging you to find a clear path through it.

And you have to do this while keeping yourself, your team, and your organization intact (and maybe even positioning it to be in a better position when things steady up again). Resilience can seem impossible when you’re in the middle of the struggle.

If you don’t develop resilience now and experience the practice of resilience principles, you won’t know how to tap into your inner resilience when you need it most.