It’s easy to lose perspective if you immerse yourself in the river of daily news. Things appear to be bad—and they are getting worse! The end of the world as we know it is right around the corner.
But things are not always what they seem.
I have been intrigued by a new book called Abundance: Why the Future is Better Than You Think by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. Acknowledging that we will experience bumps along the way to the future, the authors point out that progress is made even in the worst of times:
The twentieth century, for example, witnessed both incredible advancement and unspeakable tragedy. The 1918 inﬂuenza epidemic killed fifty million people, World War II killed another sixty million. There were tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, ﬁres, floods, even plagues of locust. Despite such unrest, this period also saw infant mortality decrease by 90 percent, maternal mortality decrease by 99 percent, and, overall, human lifespan increase by more than 100 percent. In the past two decades, the United States has experienced tremendous economic upheaval. Yet today, even the poorest Americans have access to a telephone, television, and a flush toilet—three luxuries that even the wealthiest couldn’t imagine at the turn of the last [19th] century. In fact, as will soon be clear, using almost any metric currently available, quality of life has improved more in the past century than ever before. So while there are likely to be plenty of rude, heartbreaking interruptions along the way, as this book will demonstrate, global living standards will continue to improve regardless of the horrors that dominate the headlines.
This is something important for us to remember as leaders. Even in the midst of setbacks and failures, we make progress—if we maintain perspective.
Certainly, we don’t want to stick our heads in the sand and act like bad things never happen. They do. But good things also happen.
As leaders, we must practice what Jim Collins in Good to Great calls “The Stockdale Paradox”: Great leaders acknowledge the current realities and don’t pull any punches. But at the same time, they have an unwavering belief that they will ultimately prevail.
When you experience a setback, perspective is often the first casualty. You can regain it by following these five steps:
- Acknowledge what happened. You can’t move past the setback if you don’t. This is the first step.
- Empathize with those who suffered. Failure hurts. No one enjoys it. It should be mourned.
- Put the setback in context. There is always more to the story. We can’t allow one setback—or even a series of setbacks—to define us. Failure is not the end unless you quit.
- Point out the positive. It sounds trite, but it’s true: every cloud has a silver lining. There is something to learn, something that even failure makes possible. Your job as a leader is to find it.
- Keep moving forward. The difference between winning and losing is not the number of setbacks you experience. Even winners experience failure. The difference is in whether or not you get up when you fall down and keep moving forward.
Setbacks are inevitable. They make us stronger and develop our character. But only if we maintain our perspective and use them to grow.