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Leaders need resiliency too

  • Published
  • By Col. Curtis Marsh
  • 60th Dental Squadron

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – When getting in trouble as a child, how many of you heard, “This is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you?” I’d like to take this old adage and relate it to how leaders need resilience, too.

For supervisors at every level, it is easy to live vicariously through our subordinates. Let me give a brief example. Within the last year, my superintendent and I had to deal with a disciplinary situation within the unit. How did we both react to the challenge? 

Beyond our initial disappointment, both of us found ourselves being extremely down concerning the member’s action and subsequent punishment. We were “in a funk.”  Our body language was horrible, prompting others to ask us if everything was okay.  We asked ourselves, “What could we have done differently and where did we fail?”

The truth is good people sometimes make poor decisions. How could we have responded to the crisis better? First of all, we shouldn’t have worn our emotions on our sleeves. If, as leaders, we allow ourselves to be visibly “in a mood,” others in our organization pick up on that and are also affected.

Retired Gen. Colin Powell put it well when he said, “Optimism is a force multiplier,” and “Leadership is all about people. It is not about organizations. It is not about plans. It is not about strategies. It is all about people—motivating people to get the job done. You have to be people-centered.”  We should not have only taught resilience to our organization, we should have embodied it ourselves.

How could we have responded better? Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”  Though the two of us always tell a member to pick himself or herself up, dust themselves off and get back in the fight, we hadn’t practiced what we preached. We should have been out motivating our other 120 personnel. 

All of us have made mistakes in the past. As a matter of fact, if you haven’t done something stupid, you haven’t lived. A sign on my office wall states, “The biggest mistake you could ever make is being afraid to make one.” 

There are so many great quotes and adages concerning resiliency. To not study and learn from them is to repeat the mistakes of so many brilliant people. Nelson Mandela said, “Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

Abraham Lincoln said, “I am not concerned that you have fallen; I am concerned that you arise.”

So, does meting out punishment hurt us as leaders and supervisors more than our subordinates? Perhaps occasionally, but usually not. When it does, hopefully we can emulate the British during the Battle of Britain and “keep a stiff upper lip.”

Even better, we can dole out the punishment while maintaining the dignity, honor and respect that every member deserves, pick the member and ourselves up and go on to motivate all our people to get the job done.