The spirit, the will to win, and the will to excel are the things that endure. These qualities are so much more important than the events that occur.
“Sir, you suffer from wearing rose-colored glasses!” Some of my subordinates have accused me of wearing rose-colored glasses over the years, and I admit I am an optimist at heart. For me, I have found that I always have a personal choice to make when dealing with challenging situations – I can wallow in the negative, or I can focus my energy on a positive way forward. And even though I strive for this ideal, the truth of the matter is, we all have our tough days when we are not at our best. Yes, I can get low just like everyone else, so this week’s post will hopefully help focus you and me on what I call a “Warrior Spirit” which is a key characteristic for effective leaders.
When defining a warrior spirit it may be helpful to first discuss what it is not. It is not being unrealistic or a Pollyanna. Tough situations demand serious approaches and realistic courses of action. However, it doesn’t help the situation and subordinates involved to see the leader succumb to the natural gravitational pull of negativism. Finding a positive way to deal with people or “issues” doesn’t mean you sugarcoat the problem you face, it means you display a mature, calm, can do attitude towards overcoming and dealing with the challenge.
The worst thing a leader can do when faced with adversity is to emotionally overreact, complain or gripe in front of those they lead. As General Patton once said, “As a leader, you cannot always afford the luxury of revealing all of your feelings, particularly if they are negative. There is no room for expressions of doubt, discouragement, or fatigue.” So, faced with the realization that being positive is not being unrealistic, but the correct approach and in fact is the responsibility of the leader, what is it?
John Maxwell defines Positiveness as, “the ability to work with and see people and situations in a positive way.” Jack Welch claims one of his rules of leadership is to get under everyone’s “skin”, exuding positive energy and optimism. Michael Fullan states, “Effective leaders make people feel that even the most difficult problems can be tackled productively. They are always hopeful – conveying a sense of optimism and an attitude of never giving up in the pursuit of highly valued goals. Their enthusiasm and confidence are, in a word, infectious, and they are infectiously effective.”
And I believe that a warrior spirit is about displaying resilience. Resiliency is the ability to bounce back when problems arise, and the best leaders I had the honor to follow had an ability to quickly recover from setbacks, adversity, and stressful situations while maintaining a mission and organizational focus. A good friend of mine once said, “You don’t drown because you fall in the water, you drown because you stay in the water!” And, this line of thought is also captured in this part of the Army Warrior Ethos: I will never accept defeat. You will absolutely face defeat in life, where things don’t go your way or an injustice that is outside of your control and influence. However, Army professionals will never ‘accept’ defeat, which means we pick ourselves up, learn from the event, and get back to the business of being a leader and a professional.
One final point in my case for a warrior spirit is the fact that your subordinates want to work for leaders who are positive, energetic, enthusiastic and hopeful towards our mission and future. When surveying employees for qualities they wanted in their leaders, John Maxwell discovered that they wanted to work for someone who has the ability to solve problems, handle stress, bounce back when problems arise, and displays a positive spirit. This, coupled with leadership doctrine, should give us all reason enough to evaluate how we manage our reaction to challenging situations, avoid the pitfall of negativism or emotional responses, and decide to ‘be positive’ when solving problems and leading in our organizations.