Leaders love making things happen. We love to challenge existing boundaries and attack the status quo. We make our living creating the future. What happens when you encounter a situation in which there’s nothing you can do?
This out of control feeling comes in all shapes and sizes – maybe you’ve been blind-sided by a competitor, or new government regulations have impacted your business. If you work in a non-profit organization, you may feel helpless when your largest donor walks away. There are many things we can control and others we can influence, but there are situations we cannot control.
My youngest son is disabled. Physically, David is 24 years old – cognitively, he’s about 18 months old. He has a full range of emotions, even if he doesn’t always know how to express them in socially acceptable ways. His physical health has been good his entire life. We had behavioral issues to deal with in his teens, but medication helped tremendously.
We’ve been blessed to have David in outstanding schools his entire life. Currently, he’s enrolled in the perfect program for adults with disabilities. Okay, perfect is a little strong, the school is about 70 miles from our home. No problem though, we’re moving. We've always seemed to have a response to the challenges we've faced with David... until recently.
David has begun to have seizures. I don’t know how many of you have been with someone during one of these episodes. It’s been one of the most challenging situations my wife and I have ever faced. We’ve adjusted his medication – more than once, yet the problem persists – it’s actually getting worse. We not only feel helpless; we are.
What do you and I do as leaders when we encounter a situation we can’t fix? I’ve been reflecting a lot on that over the last few months. Here are a few ideas I’m grappling with myself.
Remember your values. One of the most famous examples of this from the corporate world was the Tylenol incident of 1982. Seven people died when someone poisoned their product. The response from leadership was immediate and unequivocal – pull all 31 million bottles off the shelves. Although their leaders were helpless to restore the lives lost, the decision was clear because of their values.
Learn what you can. Our experiences shape us. Good times and bad impact our worldview and our leadership. I believe our struggles and difficulties mark us in profound ways – if we’re open to the lessons they have for us. Don’t waste the pain and disappointment in life – learn from it. Think about a circumstance in your sphere of influence in which you have this sense of helplessness. What can you learn from the experience?
If you have faith, use it. When my friend Ken Blanchard’s home burned down, someone asked him if the experience tried his faith. “On the contrary,” he said. “It put my faith to work.” If you believe God is sovereign and loves you, you can trust him even when you don’t understand.
Hang on. You may have heard it said, “Everyone is either experiencing a crisis, coming out of a crisis, or about to be in crisis.” Life is like that. When David is having a seizure, all I can do is hold him. When you and I encounter a situation in which we have little or no control, hang on tight. Hang on to your values, your family, your friends and your faith.
Even in the direst situations, there’s always something you can do. Hang on![GLS_Shield]