Finding the Strength to Lead in Trying Times

By Robert E. Quinn

(Back to Leading in Trying Times)

Starting Assumptions

  1. Leadership occurs when people choose to follow the words and/or actions of a person who acts with purpose and conviction. 
  2. The "strength" to lead is an emotional resolve-a sureness about (1) what result a person wants to create, (2) why that result is important, and (3) his or her ability to accomplish that result. 
  3. Trying times deplete individuals' personal strength because people who face trying times have trouble finding meaning in their activities, lose perspective, feel stress and over-focus on immediate problems. These reactions tend to feed back on each other, creating more problems and increasing the intensity of these reactions. 
  4. A common response in trying times is to look to authority figures for help in creating meaning and providing direction. 
  5. People in authority positions often suffer as much during trying times as those who are not in authority positions, and therefore find it hard to provide meaning and direction. 
  6. Anyone can overcome this loss of meaning and purpose, regain personal strength and become a leader in trying times by re-envisioning the result they want to create and changing their behaviors accordingly.

Finding the strength to lead requires us to re-envision the result(s) we want to create and to change our behaviors to better match the new reality.

  1. Personal strength begins with re-envisioning the result we want to create and why that result matters. People facing trying times wonder if the work they've been engaged in matters anymore. They feel stress, or even pain. They tend to over-focus on their troubles, and lose their perspective. Asking ourselves what result we want to create-given this new turn in events-helps us to re-create a larger perspective, reduce our stress, increase our energy and find meaning in our work. There are many ways to do this. Here is one possible way:

    • Identify the areas of work and/or life that matter to you. If you are focusing exclusively on work, these may be stakeholders, such as customers, employees, stockholders and the community, or values, such as knowledge generation, innovation or integrity. Examples of "life" include: Marriage/exclusive relationship, Family, Spiritual/Religious, Professional/career, Physical, Social, Financial and Intellectual.

    • Create a matrix. On the left side, label the rows using the categories you just created. On the top, label the columns "short-," "medium-" and "long-term goals."

    • Fill in each cell with goals that describe the results you want to create in each area of work or life. These goals should reflect the things you value most, and the new reality you face in these trying times.

    • If you have done this exercise before, rather than start from scratch, simply re-read the document you created before, and either re-write things based on the new reality you face or add new goals that better match the new reality.

    • If you have the discipline to do this activity (or one like it), it will force you to think about opportunities more than fears, to create rather than to simply react and to be internally-driven rather than externally driven. This will reduce stress and increase energy that you can then use to act in new, creative ways. 

  2. Personal strength becomes leadership as we change our actions to match the new reality. 

If you found this helpful, click here and you will find stories and concrete examples that illustrate this idea.