Convenience & Comfort
Week three of a series of blogs inspired by my family travels through the southern states of the USA in October 2023.
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of convenience and comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy,"
- Martin Luther King, Jr. Selma, AL, Mar 8 1965
My obsession with Martin Luther King and his part in the American civil rights struggle dominated the first week of our holiday, as we visited his museum, his churches and a number of places of significance in his life. Standing in Martin Luther King National Park, next to the simple wooden farm wagon on which his coffin had been pulled through the streets of Atlanta by two mules named Ada and Belle, I looked up and saw the above quote on the wall.
Change the word 'man' for 'leader' and it becomes the ultimate summation of the work I do. Leadership is, to me, about doing the right thing when doing the right thing is hard. So often I encounter leaders because they or their teams are experiencing difficulty. Challenging conditions in the business, a difficult relationship with someone in their orbit, a team member struggling with a problem perhaps not related to work at all. They reach out or I'm brought in because they need support and guidance or want a safe space in which to explore their thoughts and feelings and search within themselves for an answer. Moments of challenge and controversy, not perhaps on the same scale or level of impact as those faced by Dr King, but significant to those experiencing them. Discomfort is relative. The most challenging thing you've ever faced is the most challenging thing you've ever faced, whether it's more or less challenging than that of the person standing next to you. Discomfort is not a competition.
Then, of course, there's the other side of the coin. In my work with leaders, I often use the phrase 'wins hide sins' to refer to the fact that teams can commonly overlook or ignore problems when they are going through periods of success. It's easy to ignore the little niggles when the plaudits or the success or the money are rolling in, but when those things start to dry up, everything comes home to roost. A calm sea never made a skilled sailor and it's these moments of challenge and controversy which provide the canvas onto which you will paint the masterpiece of your leadership.
So what happens when I work with these leaders? Well it's at times like this we get to understand how well grounded they are in their own values. Dealing with challenge and controversy well means knowing who you are and what you believe in and value. When you're clear about those things and you're unwavering, you've got something solid to attach yourself to and to use as a guide. Things you're willing to do and unwilling to do. things you'll accept and those you won't stand for. Behaviours you'll tolerate and boundaries you won't cross. Reflecting on these things, talking about them, writing them down, exploring them even during times of convenience and comfort is the ideal way to prep yourself for the challenges you'll inevitably face. Sweat more in peace, bleed less in war. None of us can expect to go through our lives, personally or professionally without navigating choppy waters. It's an inevitable part of existence. Act now and build the foundations which will support you when it happens.