January 17, 2011
By Michael Kline
The title of this week’s column was inspired by a list of reasons why retired drill sergeants don’t make good therapists. This week, we’re talking about decisions, choices and leadership. A funny story - I was listening to a friend talking through some sadness in her life. She went on and on, as we all do when we have a sad event to get through. Eventually, we risk slipping into a self-pitying, complaining and whining mode which is far less productive than the initial healthy talk-it-out stage. When I had heard enough and when she was no longer helping herself by talking about it, I simply said “shut up and be happy”. She later told me it was the best advice anyone ever gave her! My message wasn’t cruel. I simply meant it was time to move on, pick yourself up and stop whining – in Nike parlance, “Just Do It”. Dad might have said “Suck it up”, Grandpa might have said “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, or (this really happened) my gay faith-healer friend would put his hand on your forehead and say “Get over it girlfriend”! The point is the outcome is under your control. It’s simply a decision to be happy, sad, angry or creative. The situation that led to your feelings may not have been under your control, but how you respond is totally under your control.
I had the honor of speaking to the Leadership MWV group last week, which made me feel good about our future in the valley. I shared my story of the day I graduated from being a reactor to being a responder. As a young and foolish reactor, when bad things happened, I would react passionately to express my displeasure – that’s a polite way to say yell, scream and generally pitch a fit until the problem gets fixed and I get my way. We all know people who do this entirely too often, and I was one of them. One day, perhaps at the time, the worst business day ever in the history of retail travel agencies, was the day the airlines cut commissions to travel agencies. I was President of a franchisor with thirty-five franchisees who, having just lost twenty percent of their revenue would be looking to me for guidance and solutions. It was the most sobering moment of my professional life thus far, as financially; at first glance we were ruined. We had all this business, not to mention 175 employees who would all be gone overnight if someone didn’t do something fast. We responded within minutes with instant and constant communication to keep everyone calm and to maintain a professional and congenial environment. We coordinated with our international team to pull together the best talent available to create our own unexpected strategy to not only survive, but to recover more than our loss within one quarter. It worked brilliantly. The success came, not only because of good ideas, which would not have been enough, but because of the trust previously built into the relationship and because of the choices made in how responses were carefully crafted and presented by cool heads.
Tough times make the best opportunities for great leaders. I don’t mean just for leading other people, but in leading your own life as well. Every sad thing that happens to us, or every downturn in our lives personally or economically, is an opportunity to find a silver lining and demonstrate our ability to make good choices. That’s the good news. The bad news is, this means we have to accept responsibility for the outcome of the bad situation, because it’s our response, not the problem itself that produces the outcome. That’s the hard part, because it is difficult to take blame for something caused by someone else.
Every human being has the responsibility of leadership. I believe anyone can lead regardless of their position or official authority. But, before we get serious about leading others we need to get serious about leading ourselves through our own thoughts, reactions, responses and outcomes in life. Shut up and be happy. Now go get what you want!