“When the going gets tough, the tough gets going” (Knute Rochne). I mean to get to the Promised Land you will have to navigate your way through the wilderness. Difficult times are the ones that reveal what you are made of and what kind of a leader you actually are.
Turbulent times never leave us the way they found us. Every person is affected by the tough times. No one emerges from turbulent times untouched by the tough times. I mean people are like potatoes. After potatoes have been harvested they have to be spread out and sorted in order to get the maximum market price. They are divided according to size- big, medium and small. It is only after potatoes have been sorted and put into bags that they are loaded onto the trucks. That is what I observed farmers in Molo area do.
One farmer in Molo area never bothered to sort the potatoes at all. Yet he seemed to be making the most profit – he was saving on the sorting costs. A puzzled colleague farmer asked him “what is your secret?” He said it is simple, “I just put the potatoes in bags, load up the truck and take the roughest road from Molo to Nakuru. During the 50km trip, the little potatoes always fall to the bottom, the medium potatoes land in the middle while the big potatoes rise to the top”. That is not only true of potatoes, it is a law of life. Big potatoes rise to the top on rough roads and tough leaders rise to the top in turbulent times.
People who are kings or who stand before Kings may look like they did all by themselves. But in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of turbulent times that have strengthened them. You often hear people talk of how someone has risen from nothing. When they talk like that, they mean that someone who had problems or challenges has finally made it or succeeded. I am convinced that people don’t rise from nothing. They rise from something and this something in this case is ‘Turbulent Times’. Goethe, the Germany philosopher once said t, “Before you do something you must be something.’’
Remember that consistent victories over your problems are important steps on your staircase to success. Be thankful for challenges for if they were less difficult, and you are an employee for example, someone with less ability would have your job. In other words, difficult or turbulent times make you stronger and more competitive.
I believe you have heard the story of a paralyzed journalist who wrote a book by blinking. Even if you are well acquainted with all of the details of this story, may I encourage you not to let your familiarity with the story rob you of its gripping message that I wish to pass.
The name of the journalist who wrote a book by blinking was Jean Dominique Bauby, the former Chief Editor at Elle magazine in Paris. While driving his son into the city one morning, he suffered a massive stroke and collapsed. Three weeks later, he emerged from a coma speechless, nearly deaf and paralyzed. He couldn’t move any part of his body except his left eyelid. Given his abundance of hope and optimism along with his deep desire to make a difference, Jean Dominique decided that though he could not move he would somehow find a way to write a book so that he could share the wisdom he had discovered from his tragedy with others using the power of his creative imagination. He would create a special alphabet where each letter would correspond to certain blinks of his eyelid. For three hours every single day with an editor by his side in a dark hospital room, this man slowly blinked his way through the book. It is estimated that Jean Dominique blinked more than 200,000 times to produce his 137 page text. By all accounts, the work has been described as a master piece. You can now see how Jean Dominique dedicated himself to transform his adversity into something beneficial. This stands as a shining example to the strength of the human spirit during turbulent times.
Truly speaking, this incident of Jean Dominique is incomprehensible to me and there is no way I can understand it apart from an eternal perspective. Albert Einstein once said, “What is incomprehensible is beyond the realm of science. It is in the realm of God”. Jean Dominique’s case was truly in the realm of God and I leave it at that.
I can indeed testify that hard times or turbulent times make someone become stronger. It was a trying moment for me when my mother died. As horrifying and sad as it was, her death provided the greatest moments of rare insight and grandest gestures of immeasurable grace and joy that I ever hope to experience. Utter emptiness and brokenness left me feeling awful. I was in a state what William Bridges calls ‘’Neutral Zone’’ or what Scott Peck calls ‘’Tunnel of chaos” or what Janet Hag berg calls “Stage 4: power by reflection.’’. In other words I was in a zone which was characterized by the pain of loss of a loved one and by confusion about what next. Close and silence embraces from friends, letters and phone calls of concern and empathy were much needed signs of love. The entire episode of this tragic moment strengthened me spiritually, and I am certain many who have lost loved ones have come out stronger too.
I wish now to turn to turbulent times in business. It is incredible what is going on in the business world today. It is all so chaotic. Everything is changing. Harsh uncertainty blended with deep negativity. All the rules of the game are different. Competition is fierce than ever before. Customers are less loyal than they have ever been. Technology has totally altered the way we work. The depreciation of the Kenyan shilling against the dollar has not helped the situation either. It is only organization made up of people who have learned how to manage turbulent times will be left standing. I mean leaders who understand that anyone can be a star when the economy is strong, the competition is weak, and your customers are loyal.
I am saying anyone can look good in easy conditions. So when the business environment is safe and predictable, it doesn’t take a lot for an organization to make money and grow. Now that our economy is messy, so to speak, only excellent techniques will work. The organizations that understand this will find that they have a less competition and a lot more opportunities for more growth in these turbulent times. Companies that are made up of cluster of leaders who embrace turbulent times will actually accelerate their growth by speeding up their rate of innovation as their competition pulls back, build better teams by investing in people while their rivals shrink training budgets and pick up top talent as their industry pears lay people off. Fast companies realize that turbulent times are actually gifts for them and periods to get so far ahead of the competition that they can never catch up.
The philosopher Seneca once said “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do dare that things are difficult”. Being bold and embracing opportunities that fill you with fear actually turns that fear into power and introduces you to your strength. In other words, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Joan Baez put it perfectly well by saying, “Action is the antidote to despair.”
Mario Andretti the race car driver also once said “if everything is under control, you are going too slowly”. From these statements it means that deep change or turbulent times is a purifier of some sort in business or personal lives.
With all the turbulence in business these days, it is so easy for most leaders to get disconnected from their mission, vision, values and goals. Instead they should stay centered upon only what is most important. They should have the mission discipline and stay grounded on their fundamentals. That is, leaders should during turbulent times shift from complexity to simplicity by cultivating out on the low impact activities of workdays to make room for an obsessive focus over the high impact ones.
Remember that adversity breeds opportunity. Every setback carries with it an even greater opportunity. Every curse has a corresponding blessing. Every seeming failure brings with it some gift, some door way that if you have the eyes to see it and the courage to walk through it will make you even more successful than you were before difficult. ‘When it is dark enough, you can see the stars clearly’ goes an old proverb. For every dream that dies a better one can come to life.
One great leader once said,’’ As you grow, mistakes of your youth have a way of becoming the wisdom of your old age. Only those who dare to fall greatly will ever succeed greatly. Only those who are ready to lose sight of the shore will ever discover new lands’’.
Mr. Joseph Nyanchama is a motivational speaker on transformational and servant leadership