Episode: The Leadership Superpower of the Post-Pandemic World

Michael Hyatt: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.

Megan Hyatt Miller: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.

Michael: And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work and succeed at life. Today we’re talking about a leadership trait that has kind of emerged as a superpower over the last few months. I’m talking about the ability to bounce back when you fall down. Today, we’re going to show you how to get it if you don’t have it.

Megan: This is a vital capability for leaders right now. I know, speaking for myself, when this crisis began a few months ago I, and probably a lot of you, kind of went into that power-up mode. We had all that adrenaline at the beginning. We were just going to bear down and kind of put in the hours and keep turning out the work until the crisis “passed. ” I say that in air quotes.

Well, I think we all know at this point that that’s just not happening, because reopening is turning into almost as big of a challenge as working from home, and the health threat, of course, is still out there, and the economic situation is still iffy. If this is a marathon, it’s almost like we’re hitting the collective wall in a lot of ways. That kind of crisis fatigue produces, oftentimes, slow or even no decision-making, low energy, and kind of a creeping pessimism. A lot of leaders are at a low point right now.

Michael: I’ve noticed this in talking with our clients and talking with people online, but here’s the deal: there’s hope. Leaders who can bounce back from adversity will always come out ahead of the game. The truth is if it’s not a pandemic, it’s something else. You’re going to need this superpower, as it were, to get through life. The good news is this is something you can cultivate, and today we’re going to show you how. First, let’s bring on Larry. Hey, Larry.

Larry Wilson: Hey, guys. How are you?

Megan: Hey, Larry.

Michael: We’re doing great.

Larry: You know, as you were describing this moment, Megan, it kind of reminds me of what in a novel or a movie they sometimes call the dark moment. It’s right at the end of act two. You thought the hero was going to make it there for a while, and then something happens, and the bottom drops out, and it seems like everything is just lost. Let me ask you a straight-up question, Megan. Did you face a moment like that when this crisis started?

Megan: Yeah. Absolutely I did. It’s funny. I think the timeline for probably all of us feels a little fuzzy as we look at it in retrospect. It’s like all of the days and the weeks blend together, but I’m guessing about in the second or third week… That initial week, maybe two weeks, was all adrenaline. It kind of felt like I could take on the world and we were going to beat this thing, and we had all of these great ideas. What was interesting was that, over time, the news just kept getting worse.

I can remember, specifically, being on a walk with Joel, my husband (probably a lot of you were also taking walks every day)… We were out on a walk after work, and I had a news site open, and I was like, “Honey, you cannot believe what these headlines are saying.” It was so horrible, so catastrophic. I mean, truly catastrophic. I just thought, “I don’t know if we’re going to make it. I don’t know if we’re about to enter the Great Depression. Actually, I think we probably are. I’m pretty sure we’re going to have to lay everybody off. I’m pretty sure we’re going to lose the business.”

It was like a death tumble snowball. I’ve talked before about… Joel calls it my doom spiral that I can do sometimes. It was like that times a hundred. I was pretty sure the whole world was falling apart all at the same time. I really struggled with that for at least a week or two on and off. A lot of anxiety at night, a lot of not sleeping. It finally changed for me. Some things shifted, but it was really hard. Never before in my life had so many things been threatened simultaneously, and it was a real test, that’s for sure.

Michael: The cool thing is you didn’t stay there. I was getting a little bit concerned about you, because I saw this happening. It’s not that I’m any more resilient. I’ve just been through more challenges and lived through more, so I had a little bit more confidence in our ability to survive this. But something happened at some point. I think the thing leaders need to take away is that perseverance is an important part of leadership.

In other words, this is something you’re going to have to learn, something you’re going to have to do, but even that’s not enough. Some things are just too big to power through. There are going to be times when your energy, your ideas, your optimism get depleted and you can’t just tough it out. You’re running on empty. You have to find a way to regroup, get refreshed, and get back in the game. In other words, you have to be a resilient leader.

Megan: That’s a really good point, because as I look back, what I really tried to do in the first two to three weeks was power through. I was running on my own energy, my own adrenaline. I thought it was a battle of strength and not a battle of thinking, and it became much more of a thinking battle and a battle of acquiring these traits or growing in these areas we’re going to talk about today.

Larry: Well, today we’re saying that you can develop the ability to bounce back as a leader by cultivating these three traits. The first trait we’re calling resilience, which is the ability to get back up.

Michael: This one is so important. I’ve said many times as I’ve been doing interviews on various podcasts that survival as a businessperson is really not about your education, not how smart you are, what skills you’ve cultivated, not the people you’ve surrounded yourself with, not how great your product is. It comes down to one thing: resilience.

Think of it this way. In the water, buoyant objects rise to the surface. Think of trying to hold a beach ball under the water. You can hold it there, but it’s eventually going to pop up. Your arms are going to get tired, or whatever, and it’s going to pop right back up. Well, resilient leaders have that same quality. They can get up again after a setback. It’s not that they don’t fall. Resilient leaders fall. Every leader falls. But the question is…What happens next?

For example, Lincoln was defeated a second time in running for the senate, yet he returned as a candidate for the presidency just two years later. Bill Gates actually failed in his first business. It was called Traff-O-Data. That’s right: Traff-O-Data. At his big product pitch, he couldn’t get the device to work, but he didn’t give up on himself.

Henry Ford’s first auto company failed. Oprah (I love this story) was fired from her first job in TV as a news co-anchor. The point is that each of them bounced back, and again, it wasn’t they were so smart. It wasn’t they were so brilliant. They just refused to fail. They refused to stay down. So, you have to be able to rise above it. You have to be able to bounce back.

Megan: I think resilience also depends on confidence. It’s funny, because this is definitely a situation we’ve all just been through that tests even the strongest sense of confidence somebody might have. One of the things I saw both in my own story, and then I remember a friend of mine who, faced with all of the same challenges…kids out of school, having to homeschool, trying to figure out how to work, trying to figure out how to be safe, all of those things…kind of lost his confidence in his ability to figure things out.

What was necessary was the belief that “I can fight my way through. I can figure this out. I’ll come up with a solution that will work.” Instead, in his situation, it was like, “I don’t know if I can handle this. I just don’t know if I can handle it.” What happened was he kind of crumpled under the pressure, and it took him about a week of being psychologically in a fetal position before he was able to regain a sense of equilibrium and confidence of like, “Okay. I think I can figure this out.”

He had a belief that he’s just not very good at handling things like this all at the same time or he gets easily overwhelmed. I think that’s the opposite of resilience. Resilience, even if this is something you have to remind yourself of… Just speaking from my own experience, this is something I had to remind myself of and, to some degree, still do on a daily basis: “I do have what it takes to get through this. Look at all of the hard things I’ve been in before now and come out on the other side of. Look at what I’ve survived and how I figured things out.”

Michael: That’s where we have to face the reality that these are often limiting beliefs. It’s the stories inside our heads. I just confronted one last night. Megan, you were over because we had a birthday/graduation party (8:49) for your oldest son. I was showing you upstairs in the studio where I had done something yesterday that was pretty remarkable and I was pretty proud of. I’ve been upgrading my studio in the main house, and there was a chandelier that needed to be removed from the ceiling and a simple LED light put in.

Well, in the past I’ve had this story, and I’ve told myself, “I’m not very handy, and I’m not very good with my hands.” About six months ago, I started installing some Lutron systems, which is an automated electrical system, and I just gained this confidence. It was so amazing, because literally in 30 minutes, I turned the electricity off, completely uninstalled that old fixture, reinstalled a new one, and I thought the only reason I had never done that until six months ago was a stinkin’ story that was living in my head.

As leaders, we have to confront those stories about our ability to survive, our ability to thrive, whether we can figure stuff out or not, because the one thing we know for sure (and this is the truth) is all of us have a 100 percent track record on surviving our most difficult days. We’ve gotten to this point going through hard things. Every one of us has gone through hard things. We’ve said that before on the show, but it’s worth repeating.

Megan: That’s really important. I think what we want to have is this deep-seated belief that “No matter what, I’m going to find a way. I’m going to find a way. I’m going to find a way. I’m going to find a way.” To me, when I think about resilience, that’s what I think of. I think of someone who, no matter what knocks them down, finds a way to bounce back up, usually in ways they couldn’t have ever foreseen, but they just do, rather than just sit down and put their head in their hands and stay stuck there. Not that you maybe don’t go there for a minute, but you don’t stay stuck there.

Larry: Megan, I love your point about this depending on confidence. That’s so easy to see in others. It’s sometimes a little bit harder to develop in yourself. What are some ways we can cultivate that confidence, that optimism, that belief that we can prevail?

Megan: This is probably starting to sound like a broken record, but I think self-care is really big. I know, speaking for myself, my greatest crises of confidence come after approximately 9:15 p.m. every night. The point is if I get too tired, if I have been stuck in my office and I’m not moving my body, if my blood sugar gets too low, I just feel like crap, and I’m not able to marshal the physiological parts of confidence because my body is in a compromised place.

Self-care is one of those things we think of as being important to our bodies, but our bodies support our thinking. So that’s one of the most basic places you can go if you’re struggling with this. Ask yourself: Are you getting enough rest? Are you nourishing your body? Are you moving? If you’re not, then you probably need to look at some really basic things there.

The other thing is comradery. When we’re alone, the stories in our head go unchallenged, and we’re isolated, and they feel very, very true. Sometimes the best thing you can do is pull somebody else into that conversation, whether that’s your spouse or your therapist or a coworker or even your boss or your business partner, and sort of say, “Gosh, I have this thought in my head right now, and it feels really true, and I just need some outside input for that.”

I actually had this conversation today with somebody who works for me. It was amazing to realize… I have done this so many times myself. You can get this belief in your head that’s not true, and if it’s not challenged by somebody outside of yourself, it can take root and really be debilitating to you.

Michael: One of the little disciplines I try to practice… It’s one of those things that doesn’t mean that much when you do it the first time, but if you’ll develop the habit I’m about to share, this can be a game changer in terms of your confidence. That is, start cataloguing your wins on some kind of disciplined, regular basis. I happen to do it two times a day. I do it when I’m journaling.

One of the questions I have in the Full Focus Journal is to list my three top wins from the day before. That helps me when I do that in the morning first thing to just remind me that despite the fact that yesterday may have been a total bust, maybe didn’t go the way I wanted… Maybe things didn’t turn out like I had hoped, but there were probably still, even in the midst of that, some places where I was winning, where I did achieve.

Then at the end of the day, as I’m lying in bed with Gail, one of the things we like to do right before we go to bed is hold hands and ask each other the question, “What were your three biggest wins for the day?” By the way, that second one I learned from Dan Sullivan. By just doing that, over time, it’s fantastic. That has been a game changer for us. It forces you to focus on where you’re winning. Yeah, you’re losing. That’s usually pretty present to you, but where you’re winning is something you forget.

Megan: You know what’s interesting about doing that? That’s also baked into the Weekly Preview process of the Full Focus Planner, where you start by listing your top five wins for the week. First of all, whenever I do that exercise… Normally, I do that on Friday afternoons before I’m off for the day so I’m ready for the weekend and the next week. I almost always have to look back at my planner, because I can easily remember the things that didn’t go well, but it’s very difficult for me to remember the things that went well.

If I just take the perspective of what I can remember, besides usually being negative, I can only maybe come up with one or two great things, but as I start flipping back through the week in my planner, I’m like, “Oh my gosh! That happened, and that happened, and that other thing happened.” And I feel so confident as I’m thinking about planning the next week, because all of a sudden, I’m reviewing all of these things that went well.

The truth is that remains true no matter how bad the week was. Very often, I’ll have a week where something really won’t go well and I’ll be frustrated about it and it’ll kind of color the whole week. Even still, when I go back and look at those wins, there are still three or four great things that happened, no matter how “bad” I think the week went.

Larry: So, the first trait you need to develop in order to bounce back as a leader is the quality of resilience, and that depends a great deal on cultivating your confidence. Let’s move on to the second trait, which is flexibility or the ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Megan: This is so important, because one of the things that happens to us when we get under extreme stress (for most of us anyway) is we tend to get really rigid. We don’t want to be flexible. We’re trying to find certainty, so we become abnormally rigid about things that normally we wouldn’t even care about. That does not serve us well.

If you think about a big tree during a storm…you know, high winds, kind of what that looks like…the tree has deep roots that enable it to bend every which way so it doesn’t break. That’s what we want our posture to be like as we go through storms, like the one we’ve just been through, like all of the ones we’re going to go through for the rest of our lives. We want to be able to be flexible. The funny thing about this is this does not come naturally to a lot of us, and that would be true for me too.

In fact, on the StrengthsFinder assessment, my #34 strength… Out of 34 possibilities, the one that is the lowest for me is Adaptability. That’s their word for flexibility. I am not naturally flexible, at least according to that assessment, but one of the things I’ve learned is that there’s so much power in flexibility. When you’re able to bend and shift and move, the possibilities open up before you. So I’ve learned to embrace the idea of flexibility instead of fight it, which I did for a lot of my life.

Michael: Well, you won’t be surprised, Megan, to know that Adaptability is my thirty-fourth strength as well, whereas for your mom it’s really high up there. I can’t remember which number it is, but she’s totally roll with the punches, go with the flow, all that stuff. Me? I’m a little bit more rigid, but I do think I’m resilient, so there’s hope for you if you feel like you are non-adaptable. It just comes with time.

One of the things that’s important is that flexibility depends on vision. In other words, it’s easy to be flexible when you have a point of focus that’s out on the horizon that allows you to flex in the middle of whatever you’re going through. That’s kind of like vision. Vision is about the destination. It’s where you plan to be three to five years from now.

For most of us… I don’t care what kind of business you’re in. For most of us…not everybody, but for most of us…our vision hasn’t changed, but strategy most certainly needs to change. In the midst of the pandemic, for example, when everything changed, we had to adjust our strategies. The vision at Michael Hyatt & Company hasn’t changed. We just read it to all of our teammates the other day in one of our all-team meetings, and nothing has really changed, but the strategy has changed, because the strategy is about how you get from here to there.

So, if you’re willing to be rigid or tenacious in terms of holding to the vision but flexible when it comes to the strategy of how you get there, then all of a sudden it’s just like a roadblock. It’s something that requires a detour. Not a big deal. Stay focused on the objective.

Larry: Michael, as you were explaining that difference between vision and strategy, I was thinking of Ernest Shackleton who, of anybody, may be the most resilient leader we could name in that endurance expedition that ran into so much trouble in its quest for the South Pole. Shackleton said this, and if I’m not mistaken, it came shortly after his ship was crushed by the ice and he was stranded there on Antarctica. He said, “A man must shape himself to a new mark directly the old one goes to ground.” In other words, you can’t be stuck on the old objective. When it’s gone, it’s gone. You have to be flexible enough to change and see where you need to change to keep moving forward.

Michael: This is one of the reasons I like to watch sports documentaries. I’m watching the Michael Jordan one right now. Or to watch football ones. In sports, inevitably, you have to plan. I think it was Muhammad Ali who said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” I mean, it’s true. That’s just life. I don’t care what it is.

You think this marriage is going to be easy. You have a picture of it, and then you get married, and now all of a sudden you have to be resilient because it’s not quite as advertised. Or you have kids. You think, “Oh, what could be better than having a little baby?” Then you meet some challenges along the way. Same thing with business. Same thing with your health. Everything is like this. You either learn to bend and adapt or you break. Those are kind of the only two choices.

Larry: Michael, I love that quote, but I should point out to you it was Mike Tyson and not Muhammad Ali.

Michael: I knew that, but I wanted to give you a chance to jump in here.

Larry: Thank you. I appreciate that. So, the first trait you need to cultivate in order to become a leader who can bounce back is resiliency. The second trait is flexibility. Now let’s talk about the third trait, which is ownership or the ability to take charge of your future.

Michael: I really saw this as the pandemic began back in March. As problems began to multiply, as things were changing on the ground quickly, a lot of people kind of slipped into passivity. They had that “deer caught in the headlights” kind of look, and they didn’t quite know what to do. Maybe they had been designing their life and their business, but now, all of a sudden, they were just kind of drifting.

You might start thinking to yourself, particularly as you get past the first wave, “How many setbacks can we take?” It feels like you’ve lost control, and you end up, if you’re not careful, becoming reactive rather than proactive. That’s the opposite of what resilience requires. You have to begin thinking about “How can I take ownership of this? How can I own this so I can change the outcome?” That’s kind of the essence of resilience.

What you really need is extreme ownership, to quote Jocko Willink’s term, which he uses in the book by the same title. This is a determination to find a way forward no matter what. You’re not going to leave it to the government. You’re not going to leave it to somebody else to bail you out. You’re going to take responsibility for your own outcomes, for your own future, for the survivability of your business and your life.

Megan: This reminds me of a funny story that happened to our family a couple of weeks ago. My kids are in therapy. We’re big believers in therapy at our house. A couple of my kids have some pretty significant past trauma. So we’re in therapy, we’re talking to our therapist, and she’s telling one of my boys, who was complaining about how much it just stinks that this virus is still around… They can’t play with their friends. They had to get out of school early, which meant they missed this field trip. You know, they’re kind of cataloguing all of the things that were the problem.

She said, “Well, what are you going to do about that?” One of my boys said, “Well, I’m just going to wait and hope it’ll be over soon.” She said, “Wait? This could be around for another year. It’s not going to be over until there’s a vaccine. All kinds of things have to happen. Our lives are going to be altered.” She said, “You’ve got to start figuring out how you’re going to live your life in the middle of this pandemic and get going, because you can’t sit on the sidelines and just wait.” I’m taking notes myself. I’m not even thinking about my kids at this point. I’m just thinking, “What are the ways I have been waiting and I need to get going?”

I thought about date nights. I thought about certain parts of our business that maybe we hadn’t adjusted as much as we needed to. The truth is none of us are guaranteed this moment when the clouds clear and everything is easy and everything just lines up. We have to get going no matter what the circumstances are and just find our way through and really put it on ourselves to come up with a solution rather than the external environment, which, Dad, I think is what you’re talking about here, kind of the opposite of ownership.

Michael: Yeah. I think it’s easy in any situation, if you’re not careful, to become the victim and to think everything is acting on you and you can’t take responsibility. You start blaming other people. You start blaming the government. You start blaming whomever, but that’s not what leaders do, and that’s certainly not what people who are resilient do.

You have to take responsibility and say, “Look. Despite all this stuff that’s happening…” There are always environmental considerations that are against you. “I’m going to take responsibility for what I can take responsibility for and own my response to whatever happens, because that’s the one thing I can shape.” And it’s enough. That’s going to be enough to get you through. If you take responsibility for the things you can take responsibility for, that’s going to be enough to see you through.

Larry: That is also very empowering, Michael, when you stop thinking that you’re a victim of circumstances, and it maybe makes it a little bit easier emotionally when you say, “I have some choices here. I can make some choices.”

Michael: It’s one of the things I’ve learned to do when I’ve failed at something, whether it’s getting fired by an important client, like what happened to me back in the 90s, and just finally getting to the place… I mean, initially blaming the client, blaming his organization, blaming all kinds of things, but finally getting to the place where I could say, “You know what? There were some things I could have done differently. I have to own this one.”

When it really comes down to it, no, he wasn’t perfect; no, he didn’t do all of the right things, but that doesn’t matter. I could have made a difference, and if I could go back and do it differently, I would have. Which just proves that you have agency. If you can ever look back on a situation and say, “I could have done something differently,” then that means you had agency, which is good news, because it means you have the power to change things going forward.

Larry: Well, today we’ve learned that you can develop the ability to bounce back from difficult situations by cultivating these three traits as a leader:

  1. Resilience, which depends a great deal on your self-confidence.
  2. Flexibility, which requires a strong vision.
  3. Ownership, which depends on having a sense of agency.

So, what final thoughts do you have for us?

Megan: When I think back on what we’ve all been through and I think about how stressful it has been, how challenging it has been, all the anxiety we felt, I sure hope that is not wasted. That’s one of the things I had a realization about early on. I can’t control when this crisis ends, how it ends, the decisions the government makes, the decisions my neighbors make, but I can decide to get something out of this.

I can decide that this is going to be valuable, that it’s going to be transformational for my own leadership and for our company. That commitment has really paid off. I think when we have that frame of mind, when we have those eyes to see, all of a sudden, now, instead of obstacles everywhere, we see opportunities everywhere. We see opportunities to grow. We see opportunities to innovate. We see opportunities to improve relationships inside our companies and outside our companies.

So, I guess that would be my encouragement to you. If maybe that’s not something you’ve thought about, if you’ve spent a lot of time feeling frustrated or discouraged even… All of that’s normal, but today you can make a decision that this crisis is not going to be wasted for you. No matter what the impact, how negative it has been in your life, that you’re going to learn from it, that you’re going to take this nugget, the sand in the oyster, so to speak, and make it something beautiful, something that’s valuable in your life.

It really can be, and I think we’re all going to look back on this time and think, “That was a really defining season for my leadership, for my company, and while I wouldn’t want to go back, I sure wouldn’t want to trade what I got out of it either.”

Michael: So good. I’m not sure I can add much to that. I think most of the crises we go through are not about what’s happening around us but what’s happening inside of us. If we can learn to see life as a gymnasium where we go to train and where things come to us that we need in the moment… I’m not saying everything is sent to us on purpose.

But if we can learn to be resilient enough and respond to the things we do encounter almost as if it were a training event to make us better, and if we do become better, then all of a sudden, life is not something we resent or the hard things something to be avoided, but they’re something to be embraced, something that can make us better people, and at the end of the day, that’s what I want to be. It’s not going to be the stuff I’ve accumulated or the businesses I’ve built but who I become in the process, and there’s no situation in life where you can’t become better even in adversity.

Larry: Megan and Michael, I thank you both for this powerful message you’re giving. It applies to so much more than the current crisis, so many experiences in life, and these are really powerful concepts. Thank you.

Michael: Thank you, Larry. Thank you, guys, for joining us. We’ll see you guys right here next week. Until then, lead to win.