In March Madness, 67* teams get Mad and one gets crowned the champ. Lousy odds! It gets worse, though: in every single opening round game where a #1 seed has faced a #16 seed team, the 16 seed has lost (108 in a row).
Sometimes you’re just not going to win. We’ve had some family experience with this; perhaps you have, too. Last week, my son’s JV lacrosse team lost 17-0 and then 14-2; they may well not win a game all season. When my wife was governor, despite her herculean efforts, the Michigan “team” had no chance to lead the nation in employment. My daughters who have been full-time student advocates were not going to bring all their freshmen – who were at an average 3rd-grade reading level – up to a 10th grade level. Finally, to offer a leading-at-home example: For years, one of my daughters and I seemed utterly incapable of avoiding intense arguments with each other; the victory of peace seemed completely unattainable to us.
What do leaders do in times like this? Here are four tried-and- true suggestions:
1. Don’t: Stare at the scoreboard. It will get you down. Besides, you can only score on the field. Forget about the last goal you’ve given up. Do: Continually return to the present moment – the only place anything can really change.
2. Don’t set impossibly high standards. Instead, Do: Set specific reachable, interim targets that will allow you to (a) stay focused on achieving, and (b) generate some momentum. Then celebrate the specific achievements.
3. Don’t: Collapse into scapegoating, which unfortunately is so easy to do. But, Do: Clarify intrinsic values you will pursue, like loyalty or unity. It’s a success – indeed an incredible achievement – when a young team stays unified under difficult circumstances.
4. There’s an especially important challenge for a leader when they know at some point they won’t hit their goals, might have to close a business, or finish last or far from the top. The head leader has to lead herself! She must do the two things all great leaders do: Set a vision and generate energy, and she must begin with herself. Because if you quit – whether you admit it or not – they’ll know, and they’ll be likely to quit as well. If you’re leading a team through tough times, know that doing that with character is a much greater achievement – and probably a bigger set of life lessons for you and the team – than leading when everything’s going your way.
When things seem worst,
Lead with your best self,
*67 is a recent innovation this past year.