“No matter how bad things are, you can always make things worse.” — Randy Pausch, "The Last Lecture"
One of the greatest challenges for professionals is to leave behind their personal challenges when they enter the workplace. We all have a job to do, but when there are struggles at home or with family, such as illness, financial pressures or familial discord, it can be really difficult to hunker down and focus enough to get work done.
For leaders, situations such as these can be even more of a challenge. Not only are they responsible for their own work, but they must see to it that their workforce remains productive as well. Furthermore, leaders oftentimes feel compelled to put on a show of control if not invincibility as part of their leadership persona. Allowing for weakness to show, they feel, can greatly diminish the leadership stature that they so deeply value.
(The irony of such thinking is that while, as David Dotlich points out, great leaders are praised for their successes, “paradoxically, what makes good leaders great are the trials and tribulations of failure … Leaders who have endured adversity are most likely to be the ones with the resilience and resolve to succeed.”)
What can leaders do at times of difficulty in their personal lives to stay focused on what needs to be done at work and be present, in body and mind, for their people? Here are a few suggestions:
- Label your emotion. The simple act of labeling our emotions reduces activity in the emotional brain and increases activity in the areas of the brain associated with focus and awareness. By labeling your emotions, you can better separate yourself from the experience and draft a clearer plan on how to handle it.
- Share what’s happening. Share your situation with a few close confidants who support you and can fill in for you as needed. Just knowing that others care about you can be extremely uplifting and can keep you going during difficult moments. Having people who can step in during your absence will help alleviate the burden and make sure that things move forward as needed.
- Increase your determination. Commit to working through your challenges and to not let them gain the upper hand. This determination will push you through the most challenging moments when you may otherwise be inclined to pull back. Keep a collection of inspirational quotes handy, such as:
- “Permanence, perseverance and persistence in spite of all obstacles, discouragements and impossibilities: It is this that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak.” (Thomas Carlyle)
- “The obstacle is the path.” (Zen proverb)
- Find the silver lining. In almost every difficult situation, there are silver linings, including considering how many others may have it worse. For example, if you’re struggling with a defiant child who is making poor decisions, consider how much worse off others may be in terms of their condition and disconnect.
- Reflect on how others did it. Life is filled with stories of “failures” who endured challenges yet went on to achieve great successes. People such as Thomas Edison (failed repeatedly to invent the light bulb), President Franklin Roosevelt (crippled by polio), Charles Schwab and Richard Branson (struggled in school due to dyslexia) and Oprah Winfrey (domestic abuse) all overcome personal challenges to achieve greatness.
- Consider your impact. As much as you are struggling, you are still needed by others. Your leadership, guidance, direction and support are critical elements in your organization and folks need you to be, well, you. Use such thinking to push yourself forward.
Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, (@impactfulcoach) became an executive coach and organizational consultant following a career as an educator and school administrator. Check out his new leadership book, "Becoming the New Boss." Read his blog.
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