(image via Pinterest)
Life is messy, and we all face challenge after challenge. This is the plain and simple truth. But have you thought about how you generally approach your challenges? Or what you’d like to do different, especially as a leader?
In the 12 Elements of Power framework, the pair of elements that describes how we handle challenges is Fierceness and Resilience. These two are the tools we use to plunge in and work on the messes we face at work and at home.
While I’m not a big fan of making battlefield analogies, you might think of fierceness as the foot soldiers on the front line, and resilience as the huddle of generals devising battle strategies and fallback plans. We need both in order to win the war, yes?
Resilience in the world of leadership is our willingness to engage — to head into battle even when we’re unsure of the outcome. As women, we have an innate ability to do just this. Like willow trees we may bend and yield, but we don’t break – we find another way. We’ve done this for eons. And this is one of the most important leadership competencies.
Fierceness is mama bear energy. It’s taking the sharpened spear and using it to ward off whatever danger threatens our territory. As leaders, when we put on our fierceness we’re choosing fighting words. We’re doing whatever it takes to close the deal. We’re toe to toe with the toughest competition, and we’re exerting every bit of strength in order to pull ahead.
We need both. In particular, we need fierceness to lead a campaign and resilience to regroup if the campaign isn’t successful.
But there are times when we overdo one or another of these Elements, and here’s where we get into trouble.
Fight or flight, aka distorted fierceness
Imagine a challenge you’re currently facing at work. And imagine that it has gone on for so long and has been so draining that you find yourself asking, “When will it end?”. You fantasize about quitting, about getting others fired, about staging a walk-out. You’re done. Everyone in your personal life knows how done you are.
In the language of the 12 Elements of Power, when you’re fantasizing about an ending or an escape, you’re overdoing it on the side of fierceness. We call this distorted fierceness, and it can come out as a “fight” or a “flight” reaction. Choosing either fight or flight causes us to armor up and become reactive; it leads to dysfunctional behavior and, ultimately, exhaustion for the leader. As well, it leads to fall-out for those around her.
In these times, we need to call up the counterpart to fierceness: resilience. And since we have dialed up fierceness by asking “When will it end?”, we call in resilience by imagining that the grim circumstance at hand is NOT going to end. We ask ourselves what we would do if things were to remain exactly as they are. What would we do then? We quickly find ourselves getting creative about alternatives and making plans to deal with the status quo. We find a slowing down of the anxious pacing and the escape-route planning. We return to normal breathing, and the beginning of possibility.
This exercise, of getting proactive within that imagined reality, enables us to take our first steps toward resilience.
Coming back around
And wouldn’t you know, our resilience is the precursor to active, clean, appropriate fierceness. Resilience will give you the energy to tackle the real things that need tackling. Not the mind-games of “When will this end?” but the everyday actions that help us work with what we’ve got, weather the storm, and enjoy the sun when it returns.
Resilience and fierceness are available to each of us, all the time. It’s up to us to choose the right tool for the situation at hand, and to move fluidly from one to the other.