“Fire is the test of gold; adversity, of strong people.”
– Martha Graham
How many of you remember the old saying, Stop, Drop and Roll? What is that saying all about? If you are on fire, really on fire, we are told to Stop, Drop and Roll! And if you do this it will help you put out the physical fire that is doing you serious harm. Now how many of you sometimes feel like you are on fire? Your blood is boiling with anger, or you feel engulfed personally with stress. You can feel like you are on fire! This is what adversity or hard times do to us. Although stress and adversity don’t cause physical harm like real fire, they can definitely lead you to do things that are counter-productive or not healthy. So, for those of us who are dealing with adversity, and feel like our lives are on fire, I recommend the same adage – with a twist - to help you deal with difficult situations in your life. Stop, Drop, and here’s the twist, Rock and Roll!
The first step to deal with adversity in your life is to Stop – stop what you are doing and take the time to truly define the problem at hand. When faced with a difficult situation, the first productive step often is an act of discovery, where you Stop, and work to find out what is really going on. This is done by asking questions about the problem, separating assumptions, things that may be true or false, from what is truly known, or facts. For military staff officers, this is the second step in the military decision-making process (MDMP), called mission analysis. By defining the facts, assumptions that are either true or false, resources on hand, and constraints, we are able to define the challenge we face. This allows us to define the true problem. This requires us to Stop what we are doing, explore the situation, and then be dedicated to defining the operational environment at hand.
After we have defined the problem, we then can Drop – drop our emotions and be rational. In his book, The Speed of Trust Stephen M.R. Covey makes the case for our second step, being honest, by stressing truth and confronting reality as we explore the situation. This can be especially challenging when a situation is personal in nature. Because when things get personal, we as humans become emotional. Emotions can override rational thought in personal situations and focusing on separating our emotions from reality is a chore. However, placing some professional “distance” from the situation can help us to call things as they are, not as we feel they are. If you are like me, this can be difficult when dealing with my personal life, friends, and family. But only when we manage our emotions can we gain the necessary clarity to move forward with an effective plan.
Finally, the last step is to Rock and Roll. This third, and sometimes most difficult task, is leading with resolve and direction. General Stanley McChrystal commented on this while in Afghanistan discussing issues with a company of Soldiers in a remote outpost. When asked why we continue the mission in the face of uncertainty and adversity, he told the leaders, "Strength is leading when you just don't want to lead. You're leading by example. That's what we do. Particularly when it's really, really hard, and it hurts inside." In this way, leaders fulfill their responsibility of providing stability and focus while communicating their vision and purpose, even in the hard times.
This is a test or our resilience, where we are able to deal with difficult situations in our lives by getting up, dusting ourselves off, and then moving forward in a positive direction. If we are in a leadership role, this is the best way that we can reassure our subordinates not only on the course of action, but most importantly the reason for the way forward. I call this “Rock and Roll” because I am a drummer, and it reminds me to make the best of a situation, to stay positive even in the hard times, for the betterment of everyone involved in solving a difficult problem.
Sometimes the hardest part of a problem is actually accepting the fact that something is wrong, and that we must do something about it. However, clarifying the situation with good analysis, being honest about the reality of the situation, and then leading even when it is hard, are the steps of a leader. The next time you are feeling the stress of a difficult situation I recommend you Stop and define the problem, Drop the emotions and consider rational courses of action, and then Rock and Roll with resolve and a positive focus. After all, even in tough times, we look to our leaders to accept the reality of the situation, focus on the facts, and help move us and the organization through the fog of the situation with resolve and that “rock and roll” attitude. Stop, Drop, and Rock and Roll!