It’s almost the end of a quarter.  For many organizations, this quarter continues a string of difficult ones – and our typical focus on reporting quarterly results just reinforces that.

Of course, some bad news doesn’t follow a nice quarterly calendar.  One client organization I know has recently received some really bad news that has essentially shut down a significant portion of their business until they can resolve some key issues.  That’s a bad day at the office.

One of my contacts there sent this question:

How do you keep your head up and your leadership intact when things look bleak?

My friend suggested learning lessons from the legendary Ernest Shackleton, who led an ill-fated attempt to reach the South Pole.  A few lessons this client drew from Shackleton’s story:

  • Never lose sight of the ultimate goal, and focus energy on short-term objectives.
  • Find something to celebrate and laugh about.  (I must admit, gallows humor has seen me through many a tough scrape.  My dad always said, “Hey, where’s your sense of humor?”)
  • Never give up – there’s always another move.

A recent Harvard Business Review article by Joshua Margolis and Paul Stoltz offers a couple of other practices that resilient leadership teams do when facing tough odds or sobering facts.

  • Ask, “What features of the situation can I (even potentially) improve?
  • Ask, “What sort of positive impact can I personally have on what happens next?”
  • Ask, “How can I contain the negatives of the situation and generate currently unseen positives?”
  • Ask, “What can I do to begin addressing the problem now?”

Here’s what I like about these questions: they look forward and encourage us to take positive action.  They hijack that panicky, discouraged part of the brain and get it focused on something useful again.  They may even lead us to taking advantage of some aspect of this crisis.  After all, we all need a kick sometimes to get moving – and bad news can lead us to do that.

What other ways have you seen a tough situation turned to the good?