Imagine you’re walking along the beach. In the distance, you see storm clouds gathering, the sky darkening. The sun slowly becomes unrecognizable behind the thick cover overhead. The waves rushing onto shore become increasingly more powerful, as they push further into the sand, washing away the designs and formations made by beachgoers earlier in the day. The lifeguards beckon swimmers out of the water because they know the undercurrent is stronger and the sea is dangerous. Umbrellas and beach chairs are stacked up and tied down. Meanwhile, the sand is pushed in and out by the waves, back and forth in unpredictable patterns.
Further down the beach are clusters of boulder rocks. The same waves rush upon these rocks. The rain mixed with waves creates a spray so blinding that it’s difficult to see through the resulting mist. The difference here is, the rocks don’t move. The water gushes high into the air as it hits them with a fury, then meekly settles down, foaming into the cracks between them and flows back to the sea that it came from. This happens repeatedly, the water crashing into the rocks, but the rocks…never…move…an…inch.
Why not? Because rocks are heavy, composed of a hard non-porous material, and are firmly embedded in the ground. While sand is the result of rocks that have eroded over thousands or millions of years, it shifts with the winds and waves. Its small particles are constantly rearranged together and shaped by each gust of wind and surge of water.
Rocks in turn are formed when soil and surface materials erode, leaving layers of sediments, which over the same thousands and millions of years and under intense pressure and heat eventually turn into those boulders. If you could speed up the process, it’s like rocks are the result of pressure cooking.
To be honest we may all begin our leadership journey like sediment or grains of sand, washed in and out by forces beyond our control. But over time and with experience, we can strengthen our leadership capabilities to withstand periods where a powerful storm arises and beats on every aspect of our work.
Leadership like a rock stands strong in the midst of crises. Several characteristics are evident in leaders who are strong like a rock.
These leaders never budge in their focus on why the organization exists. This is the driving force that shouldn’t change even as conditions shift. In the midst of challenges, or simply as it evolves, how your organization operates may shift, but the why should remain consistent.
These leaders exhibit discipline to the important fundamentals of the business. It’s important to have standards and processes that must be rigorously followed for quality and dependability. In times of crises, additional protocols may be instituted as leading indicators to identify problems before they occur.
These leaders are consistent and transparent in their personalities, so team members know what to expect from them. The team needs to be able to anticipate the leaders’ behavior, questions, and priorities. This predictability makes it easier for team members to perform their best work because they know what they can depend on.
These leaders provide clear pathways for their teams to follow to make progress in their organizational goals. They provide direction and clarity for the strategies identified to reach business objectives.
Leadership like sand shifts around in the midst of crises. Their direction changes, their expectations vary, they are reactive to powerful forces being thrust upon them. Like beachgoers reshape sand into different formations which are easily washed away in the current, they are subject to shift based on politics, environmental influences, business challenges, and their own self interests.
You get to choose. Mature leaders who have withstood multiple and lengthy periods of “pressure cooking” will be able to lead like rocks. They will also have handled setbacks and storms that they know will come and go. They have focused on the long game, knowing it takes experience to lead like a rock. They’re not deceived by the appearance of immediate successes, sand, that don’t contribute to their long-term goals. Experienced leaders, boulder rocks in their own right, have vast knowledge about how to weather storms as they support their teams and the organization. Where do you want to be in midst of a storm, standing on shifting sand, or perched on a boulder rock?
Looking for ways to transform your leadership? Check out four key elements here.