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Staying on Top When Your World's Upside Down


Transform despair into determination

Tác giả: Joe Tye

“Optimism can be sparked by leaders who reframe disastrous events in positive, empowering ways.”
Dennis N.T. Perkins: Leading at the Edge: Leadership Lessons from the Extraordinary Saga of Shackelton’s Antarctic Expedition

Prevention is the best defense, but when despair strikes anyway, the best strategy is to transform it into the energy for determination. Many very successful, very creative people have stood on despair’s doorstep, perhaps for a very long time, and returned more determined to become the person they were truly meant to be and to pursue their most authentic dreams. Og Mandino, Buckminster Fuller, Billy Joel, Harold Hughes, and Robert Fulghum are among those who were actually on the brink of suicide when they turned around and realized that they had important work remaining to be done. As Robert Fulghum wrote about his experience: “Death isn’t what I wanted. It wasn’t less life, but more life – life with meaning” (emphasis in original). Great leaders recognize that despair is an emotional wasteland, and are quick to transform it into determination by investing the situation with meaning and with commitment to prevail against all odds.

When Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance was first trapped in and then crushed by Antarctic ice in 1916, one of his most daunting challenges was to maintain the morale of his twenty-eight crew members during their 634-day ordeal. In Leading at the Edge, leadership consultant Dennis N.T. Perkins and his co-authors describe some of the strategies that Shackleton used to hold his team together and bring them all home alive:

Shackleton kept his men busy, knowing that idleness can foster a sense of lost control, which in turn leads to despair.

He was quick to defuse conflict, and used every excuse to hold a party or celebration of some sort.

He made sure his men understood that he had no doubt whatsoever they would all survive, and set a personal example of courage and self-sacrifice in doing the things that were necessary for that to occur.

He encouraged creative thinking to solve what appeared to be intractable problems, and when inaction would have been a fatal choice, he was willing to take what otherwise would have seemed unthinkable risks.

Shackleton knew that a leader’s first duty during tough times is to maintain hope and optimism, and to stave off despair, no matter how desperate the situation might seem. In retrospect, one can speculate on how frequently members of the crew were tempted to quit before the breakthrough that led to their rescue. Shackleton himself later wrote: “I have marveled often at the thin line that divides success from failure and the sudden turn that leads from apparently certain disaster to comparative safety.”

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