It’s easy to lose perspective if you immerse yourself in the river of daily news. Things appear to be bad—and getting worse! The end of the world as we know it is right around the corner.
The media profit from our fear and anxiety, which is exactly why I stopped watching television news. It provides an incomplete picture at best. But things are not always what they seem.
Just consider the previous century. We’re all aware of the terrible wars, crippling epidemics, and destructive storms. But, as Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler explain in their book, Abundance: Why the Future is Better Than You Think, progress is made even in the worst of times.
[T]his period … saw infant mortality decrease by 90 percent, maternal mortality decrease by 99 percent, and, overall, human lifespan increase by more than 100 percent…. [E]ven 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.
Based on dozens of metrics measuring health, wealth, and human thriving, “global living standards will continue to improve regardless of the horrors that dominate the headlines.” Here’s a simple but honest question: How much of our fear and anxiety is driven by cameras pointing the wrong direction?
But we don’t need the news and history to make the point, do we? Our own lives are full of setbacks and crises that can steal our perspective.
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. 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—on the global stage and day-to-day.
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 we experience significant setbacks, 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.
As Collins points out, this process enabled Admiral James Stockdale to survive imprisonment in the brutal Hanoi Hilton. But this basic framework has also enabled amazing innovation in times of uncertainty and new businesses and industries to flourish through economic downturns.
And it can help us in these uneasy days, too.
Setbacks and crises are inevitable. They make us stronger and develop our character. But only if we maintain (or regain) our perspective and use our setbacks to fuel our growth.