In the past few weeks, we have had several conversations with both clients and with friends who were feeling down because something that they had hoped would go one way had gone quite a different way, and now they were “stuck.” To support them on their journey, we shared with them one of the pillars of leadership (from our Leader in You framework):

A leader sees the possibilities
inherent in obstacles and challenges

The key word here is inherent.

It can be difficult to believe in possibilities, particularly when you have had a goal in mind that was going to move you forward on a particular project or initiative. Yet, inherent in the obstacles and challenges exist possibilities and opportunities. And once you can make the shift to look for them, you will be amazed at what you see.

Here are two examples:

  1. An executive we coach had been working with a colleague on a major project when that colleague had to take time off due to a family crisis. Our client was certain the project was doomed because they were the only two people who knew this effort in any detail. She was crushed and nervous about how to present this to the Board, who was watching this project closely. As we taught her that one of the key aspects of powerful leadership is to seek the possibilities inherent in obstacles and challenges, her face changed—and it wasn’t in that inspired, “ah!” way but rather in the “are you nuts?” way. We assured her that there are always possibilities in the obstacles and challenges. Always.

    We asked her about the project. Why had the two of them worked on it? Who wanted to blow it up? Who else had interest? And, then we got the inspired “ah!” face. She described two younger execs who had been totally envious of the project and if she brought them in, they might be able to add important perspectives to the areas where she and her previous colleague had been stuck. She brought them in and the result exceeded the Board’s expectations.

  2. An old friend of ours has struggled with her weight her entire life but had been feeling good about her weight for a couple of years. Recently, she had to put her dog to sleep and found herself gaining weight. She was struggling with his death and began to eat a lot to cope with her grief. As she shared these recent events, she understood that she was grieving but was frustrated that she had gone back to old eating patterns. We asked if she was up for exploring how she might be a leader around her health and explore the possibilities in these recent challenges.

    We asked her some questions. What has worked for you historically? What typically gets in your way? She answered our questions—reminding us that she had struggled with her weight her whole life. Then, she told us that she had actually started gaining weight before her dog’s death. As he’d gotten older, he was too weak to walk so she’d stopped walking with him and then stopped walking without him, choosing instead to stay home with him. Prior to his getting so weak, she had been part of a dog-walking group that she enjoyed. Then her face lit up! She’d heard from a couple of the members of the group that they needed someone to walk their dogs while they were away and she realized that she could walk the dogs for her friends. She got very excited about stepping back into the group and having time around the dogs without having to decide yet if she wanted another dog of her own. The last time we chatted, she was walking 5 days a week, was loving being part of her dog-walking group again, and had started to lose weight.

It is not always easy to get above the disappointments in this life but as a leader in your life, family, work, and community, you will always have more power if you become a seeker of those possibilities inherent in the obstacles and challenges of your life.

This week, take some time to consider this pillar of leadership in your own life.

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