How to Lead When Something Breaks

 

Broken TeamI recently broke my hand. I’ve led a fitness class for about 10 years. I work out with my class. We were doing high box jumps.

I built the box I was jumping on to. Couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve jumped on to it over the years. Perhaps because of that comfort, I rushed, miscalculated the jump and smacked my hand into the box. Smacked it hard enough to break it.

It hurt. But I didn’t want the workout to be interrupted. So, I threw a bag of ice on it. Finished the workout.

The next day, I showed up at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, did the full workout and grappled one-handed. That’s my normal routine. Not grappling one-handed. Working out one day, BJJ the next. I love staying active. I wasn’t going to let a problem stop that.

People started commenting that I probably should see a doctor. I didn’t want that. Doctors either tell you they can’t do anything or they disrupt your life. I didn’t need either.

But then I thought about it. I decided it was pretty hard to function without one hand. I shouldn’t risk a chance of it healing wrong.  Maybe toughing this out wasn’t as tough as it was stupid.

The doctors (plural) confirmed it was broken. They were all impressed. “That’s a really hard bone to break!”

Nobody was impressed that I was toughing things out. “You need to stop that.”

Then they said, “You need surgery. It’s out of alignment. If we don’t fix it now it’ll cause you problems forever.”

Bummer. Bummer. Bummer. My heart sank.

Now I have a fat splint on my hand, making it hard to type. It’s hard to do everything. Buttoning my shirt, taking a shower, taking care of my kids. Getting in and out of the car.

Frustrating. And, as I write this, I haven’t even had surgery yet.

The Leadership Lesson of the Broken Hand

I realized I was doing what many, many leaders do. Like athletes, many leaders learn to play through the fouls. They learn to play through the pain. To suck it up and keep moving.

There is definitely a place for this. One of the attributes that set elite athletes and leaders apart from everyone else is a willingness to tolerate discomfort.

However, like athletes, many leaders allow their organizations to accumulate injuries that are poorly healed or never heal at all.

As leaders, we often try to drive harder, to push through things. We go into denial and explain away things like high staff turnover, or declining demand for our services, or an inability for our staff to work together.

We think it is a form of “toughness” to just keep pushing through. Trying to willpower our way around something that isn’t working well. And we often can.

To a point. But there is a cost. If not now – later.

Five Choices Leaders Need to Make in The Face of An Unwanted, Untimely, Inconvenient Problem

  1. Stop and Address the Issue: Willpower and toughness are important attributes. But I can’t willpower my way through a broken bone. A leadership team can’t willpower its way through siloed goals. An organization can’t just endure bleeding out staff without ending up anemic or dead.

We have to be willing to recognize there is a problem and take appropriate action. Don’t ignore problems. Deal with them.

  1. Don’t Freak Out & Stop Everything: Some people don’t want to stop anything. Ever. Others, when confronted with a problem, will do the opposite. They quit. They shut down. They go home.

I’m not talking about quitting. Don’t quit. Get support if you need it. Regroup, but don’t quit.

  1. Decide What Needs to Continue: If you’ve got a lot of balls up in the air, this issue may cause some of them to drop.

You can leave the choice of which balls are dropped up to chance. Or you can choose. The underlying values of the organization should guide these choices.

You should choose: Which balls must stay up in the air? Which balls can be dropped for now? How do you do both responsibly?

  1. Decide What Needs to Be Adapted or Changed: With my hand, there will be short term changes and adaptations I need to make just to endure the surgery and recovery process. There will also be long term changes I need to make to redevelop full strength.

This might seem obvious when it comes to a fracture. But it isn’t to many leaders. It is common for me to receive calls that can be paraphrased as “We’re getting awful results! What can you do that will allow us to keep doing the same things, the same way, but get different results?”

Accept and change what needs to change. Some of this is short term. Just enough to get you through the change process. Some of it is permanent.

It all leads to health and renewed performance.

  1. Accept What I Can’t Change: I can’t change that I have to stop and let healing happen. I can’t change that I need to alter plans that I have made. That I can’t participate in certain activities the way I’d like to. I just have to accept it.

Many athletes struggle with accepting this. Many leaders do as well. It’s easy to drift into blaming, resentment or bitterness.

It’s wiser to just accept what we can’t change. Focus that energy on what we can change.

Moving Forward

An accident created a scenario that I didn’t choose. But I have many choices to make from here. Some options are better. Others options are worse.

I can’t afford to sit back and not make a decision. Or my hand (like your team or organization) will get used to its new normal, broken position and heal poorly.

I don’t want to stop everything.

So, I need to accept where I am at and move through it.

What “Unasked For” Situation Are You Facing?

You may be facing a financial challenge, the departure of key staff, rapid growth which forces changes to comfortable habits, the failure of a plan….

What is the situation? Are you willing to walk through the five choices above? Where does that take you?

Take good care,

Christian

P.S. If you would like to talk to someone regarding the choices above, contact me at christian@vantageconsulting.org or 907 522-7200.

 

 

 

 

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