Leadership isn't tested in good times

What doesn’t kill you truly makes you stronger

Imagine a stormy evening for a moment. Rain is comind down in sheets, hitting the pavement in waves. Trees are being whipped by the wind, testing the strength of the branches as they flail around. Lightning is momentarily brightening the evening sky as the bassline of thunder plays against the percussion of rain striking roof, windows, wall, and ground. The wind howls through the air, playing a melody against the back drop of rain and thunder.

Both trees and houses are subjected to the same stresses of a storm, namely powerful wind, but each has a different relationship with those stresses. A house is built to withstand certain wind speeds. Exceed those speeds, and shingles and other parts of the home will suffer damage. A house can either withstand wind or be harmed by it.

Trees have a different relationship with wind and other environmental stressors. Trees aren’t built, but are living, growining, adapting plants. As they grow, they are exposed to external forces like the wind. Far from making trees weaker, these stresses make the trees stronger and help them reach maturity. In the Biosphere 2 study done in the 90s and popularized by the Pauly Shore movie “Bio-Dome”, trees grown in the controlled environment would eventually collapse if they were not exposed to wind.

Our leadership grows the same way. While we grow personally in good times and bad, our skills as leaders are put to the test when things go sideways on us. Anyone can sail a ship underway in a calm breeze, but it takes a skilled sailor to navigate in a storm. Likewise, a crisis requires leaders to leverage their full arsenal of leadership skills to navigate and resolve, often under time pressure.

The stresses of the bad times are what grow us. When things are going well, when we have the luxury of time, how much easier is it to consider the optimal approach to take an action? Yet here in the good times, we’re comfortable. As former CEO of IBM Ginni Rometty once stated, “Growth and comfort do not coexist.”

We all will face good and bad times in our careers. Seek discomfort in the good times to force yourself to grow so that you are ready for the bad times. And when you are in the middle of the bad times, think of yourself as a tree blowing in a storm. You may feel whipped around, uncomfortable, and stressed, but remember to bend, not break and that you will grow stronger from this experience.