How To Deal With Unpredictability
When Frank got his new job in November, there were days he must have felt like he had just been appointed captain of the Titanic hours before her brush with a North Atlantic iceberg. The more he examined the books and the economic disaster he inherited, the worse it looked.
If that wasn’t enough, morale was in the toilet. People were beginning to revolt. At times, the simmering cauldron of collective anger would erupt into public brawling and bloodshed. Highly educated professionals and citizens of rank speculated the end was near; that the organization was facing the final curtain. More than once, Frank would mutter, “what the hell have I gotten myself into?”
Does this sound familiar in these unprecedented times?
Frank made a simple, yet powerful decision. If the world was going to eat him up and spit him out, it was going to happen on his 'leadership' terms. No matter what the critics said or thought, he was going to do things his way.
It would be another 36 years before another Frank from Hoboken, NJ, would sing “My Way”, written by Canada’s Paul Anka. The defiant sentiments expressed in the lyrics of that 1969 Sinatra recording eloquently capture the spirit of what any leader needs to know in times of crisis.
Just like any one of us being tested by world events right now.
In March of 1933, Frank diligently prepared to deliver his Inauguration Address in front of the U.S. Capitol.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States, stepped up to the plate and delivered a grand slam. Carefully chosen words - perfectly delivered - that desperate people needed to hear most in the face of impending economic and social collapse. With factories closed, people starving, unemployment soaring above 25% and more than 2 million homeless, there were very real concerns that democracy itself may not be a viable option after all. The siege mentality that gripped the nation was very similar to the one that began the evening of March 11th when the NBA announced they were suspending their season and economic dominoes started tumbling.
When FDR became captain of the ship at the height of The Great Depression, his first order of business was to put an end to all the panic that was only making a bad situation worse. You can watch for yourself. Notice at the 1:10 mark how his stirring words relate to what we are all experiencing in our own lives right now.
The fear and uncertainty experienced during The Great Depression is no different than what happened last week when all 7 billion of us were jolted by the COVID-19 pandemic. There isn’t a single person, company or organization that is not being affected by these unmatched events in world history.
There are still many hurdles to overcome and there may be some dark days ahead.
But, it’s reassuring to know we can always refer back to the pages of history and discover a bounty of insight and inspiration from leaders before us who have faced similar challenges. It only takes a moment to stop, reflect and ask a simple question:
How have other leaders responded in times of unprecedented crisis?
Looking back to what Franklin did in the week prior to his March 4th inauguration speech may help you and I navigate these troubled waters.
Hunkered down at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., FDR knew he was working on the speech of a lifetime; one that needed to inspire the American people to regain their sense of stability and self-confidence. Roosevelt brought with him a volume of writings from the essayist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau and referred back to history as well, to find this journal entry from September 7, 1851: Nothing is so much to be feared as fear.
Taking his inspiration from one of America’s literary giants, Roosevelt reworked the threads of that one phrase and spun oratory gold. For good measure, he tacked on one more sentence to drive the point home as he labeled fear for what it truly is:
“Nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance”.
History shows that FDR stated his case of which he was certain.
Fear can be more contagious than any virus. The emptying of shelves of toilet paper would indicate that. But, for centuries, human civilizations have survived all manners of catastrophes that include the Black Plague in 1347, the Spanish Flu of 1918, two world wars, the Kennedy assassination, the terrorist attacks on 9-11, SARS in 2003 and the market meltdown of 2008.
Like previous calamities, this too shall pass. (And by all indications, there will be plenty of toilet paper)
- Turbulent times allow us to recognize that Fear can project a large shadow in our imagination, but he himself is small.
- Turbulent times give us a chance to call out Fear for what he is; a cowardly chap who will bolt for the hills once you show that little scaredy-cat a measure of courage and composure.
- Turbulent times afford each one of us an opportunity to demonstrate a higher level of personal leadership when we need each other most.
We can all borrow a page from FDR’s playbook. Refuse to let Fear stand in your path. And find new ways to move forward with unbridled confidence in our future, based on our convictions from the past.
“Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood” . MARIE CURIE
So What Can we Do?
An age-old question on the subject of leadership is whether the times define a leader or does a leader define the times? During this global pandemic, we all have an opportunity to experience those answers with the personal choices we make in the days and weeks ahead. Each one of us now has an opportunity to:
- Small Business owners are taking a big hit. Many are afraid of bankruptcy. Please show support for small business everywhere and make buying choices that reflect your personal care for the economy.
- Demonstrate gratitude and show utmost respect for every public health worker and medical professional working in the front lines right now. They have an unimaginable task ahead of them. Don’t be the person who piles more on their already overloaded plate.
- Do whatever is needed to maintain a social distance and help flatten the curve. Maintain perspective. It’s not like we’re going off to fight a world war. We’re being asked to hang out with family and do more binge-watching than usual.
- Show support for small business everywhere and make buying choices that reflect your personal care for the economy. I am fairly certain the big guys and the banks will be OK.
Learn something new. Expand your intellectual and creative horizons. Enroll in a Master Class, watch TED Talks or dive into those classic books you have always intended to read. Pick up a pen or a paint brush and start making your own art. Grab a guitar and start jamming like Milwaukee Bucks star, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
- Find ways to pitch in and help out seniors who may have difficulty getting groceries.
- Maintain a positive attitude with your social media postings and avoid feeding the Corona Virus fear monster. Look for ways to be helpful, not hurtful. In other words, keep your fears to yourself but share your courage and optimism with others.
- Kick your fitness routine into high gear. Spend more time in the kitchen experimenting with new recipes. Finish restoring that antique car or the leftover projects still in the workshop. And while you are at it, clean out that messy garage and storage room once and for all!
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