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Here’s Why Turbulence Is an Opportunity, Not a Threat

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When you look at leaders like Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Boris Yeltsin, and Rudy Giuliani, the common thread connecting them is that they led with a cool and calm demeanor and overcame turbulent times. Winston Churchill was a wartime hero who led his country to victory during the Second World War. Abraham Lincoln was the President at a crucial time in American history, when he had to work for the unity of the country, and also against slavery at the same time. Boris Yeltsin handled an army coup successfully by facing it head-on. Rudy Giuliani, as the Mayor of New York, handled the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. These leaders remained calm during the crisis and set an example for others to follow. They were cool, composed, and charismatic in their leadership.

Tough times never last, but tough people do

Robert H. Schuller once remarked, “Tough times never last, but tough people do.” Rudolph W. Giuliani was the Mayor of New York from 1994 to 2002. He displayed his amazing leadership skills during September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on New York. At that time his popularity was on the wane and it was believed that he would fade away into obscurity. 

But the terrorist attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre brought his inner strength, potential, and character to the fore. Through his calm leadership, he brought remarkable strength and stability to New York when the city was clouded with uncertainty. He faced the crisis squarely, without losing his calm, led from the front, and consoled and reassured the public by building confidence in them. 

He said, “It is in times of crisis that good leaders emerge.” Giuliani outlines six skills to excel as a great leader. These are—having strong beliefs, being an optimist, being courageous, preparing relentlessly, emphasizing teamwork, and communicating clearly. 

Leaders must be prepared to face any crisis that may occur, whether in the shape of a terrorist attack, natural calamity, negligence within the system, or industrial accidents. Failure to control the crisis quickly may damage the organization’s credibility and goodwill. Whenever you are confronted with a crisis, be a part of the solution, not the problem. 

Of course, this is always very hard to remember in the heat of the moment! Michael Caine said, “Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.” Hence, when hit with a crisis, take a deep breath, look at the problem in detail, focus on the big picture, search for alternate solutions, shortlist the best one, and implement and execute effectively. Do remember that all actions may not deliver the desired outcomes. Be prepared for failures.

When you act calmly, you will find a solution to your problems. At the same time, prepare not just Plan A and Plan B, but also Plan C, and so on, to manage the uncertainty. Indeed, some leaders deliver well during stress and crisis as adversity brings out the best in them. When stress delivers positive results it is known as eustress. 

The importance of remaining calm in times of crisis

Leaders must control their emotions of anger and frustration and remain calm under pressure. They need to be seen as problem solvers in times of crisis rather than people who just complain. Staying calm during a storm will help you to come out with flying colors. The present global business environment demands not only soft leaders but also hard ones. When times are good anyone can be at the helm. When the sailing is rough, the real leaders and CEOs come to the forefront to sail the ship successfully to the shore. 

Abraham Lincoln is an apt example of a leader who led America during the turbulent times. When America had two challenges of slavery and the Civil War, Lincoln demonstrated his leadership acumen by managing all stakeholders including his political rivals effectively to abolish slavery and ensure the unity of America. It is for this reason that many leaders look up to Lincoln whenever they encounter leadership challenges irrespective of their political ideologies and countries.

A book on Abraham Lincoln, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, describes how Lincoln related to people. The book describes how he brought into his cabinet people who were opposed to him, including three opponents for the Republican nomination, who, for the most part, thought Lincoln was a country bumpkin. However, within eight months to a year, he succeeded in getting these people to look up to him. 

His rivals were turned into allies because he had the confidence and wisdom to collaborate with the best people. It’s an inspiring story. Combining the perspectives of people from different backgrounds and with different viewpoints and expectations can be a source of advantage in the marketplace. Many American Presidents look up to Abraham Lincoln whenever they encounter political challenges although two more American Presidents are also equally eminent to lead in turbulent times—George Washington and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 

Lincoln was a committed and dedicated leader who learned bitter lessons throughout his life mostly from his successive failures before he occupied the office as the first Republican, and the 16th President of America. Hence, CEOs must take a leaf from Lincoln’s leadership.

Be Bold to Lead in Turbulent Times

The real leaders emerge during a storm. And real leadership skills emerge during a crisis. The leaders who fail to rise to the occasion during a crisis will never succeed as leaders. Turbulence is not a threat but an opportunity to test yourself and help others to make a difference through performance. Kelly Corrigan rightly remarked, “Turbulence is the only way to get altitude – to get a lift. Without turbulence, the sky is just a big blue hole. Without turbulence, you sink.” 

Every challenge is an opportunity for growth. When you encounter a challenge the best within you will come out and you perform well. You get great satisfaction when you come out of the challenges. Tough times call for tough and quick decisions. Hence, CEOs must be well prepared to face tough times to ensure organizational stability and effectiveness.

Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D. is the Father of “Soft Leadership” and the Founder of MSR Leadership Consultants, India. He is an International Leadership Guru with forty years of experience and the author of fifty books including the award-winning ‘See the Light in You’ URL: https://www.amazon.com/See-Light-You-Spiritual-Mindfulness/dp/1949003132. He is a C-Suite advisor and global keynote speaker. He brings a strategic eye and long-range vision given his multifaceted professional experience including military, teaching, training, research, consultancy, and philosophy. He is passionate about serving and making a difference in the lives of others. He is a regular contributor to Entrepreneur Magazine. He trains a new generation of leaders through leadership education and publications.

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