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Tag Archives: difficult situation

When facing difficult situations as a leader, think about the physics of flying a kite

difficult situationsI’ve previously blogged about how airplanes take off against the wind.  It seems counterintuitive … you would expect that it would be easier if the wind were coming from behind the aircraft, giving it a push. Yet in reality, it is easier for a pilot to take off when flying towards a full-force gale, rather than with it.  Well, turns out that the physics of flying a kite is actually similar to that of flying an airplane.

The science behind the flight of kites is not only interesting, but also offers a powerful lesson in leadership and an alternate perspective on dealing with the numerous difficult situations in which you face resistance, opposition, setbacks and delays in the things you are trying to accomplish.  There are four forces that counteract each other in order for flight to occur.  Lift and weight act vertically, and drag and thrust act horizontally.

As wind moves over the body of the kite, speed differences means that the air pressure above the kite is less than the pressure below, and as a result an upward force is created called lift.  At the same time, the downward gravitational force of weight pulls the kite towards the earth.  Thrust is the forward force that propels the kite in the direction of motion.  While an airplane generates thrust with its engines, a kite must rely on wind or failing that, running by the kite flyer.  Drag is the backward force that occurs due to the friction of the air movement.

What does it take to stay in the air?

Two things must happen for a kite to stay aloft.  Continue reading

A mental approach to coping with irritants

PearlOysterOur work lives are filled with irritants – demanding or difficult people, unreasonable deadlines, overwhelming workloads – and it’s exactly these moments when we have to reach deep within ourselves to find ways to cope with these aggravations.  At times like these, it’s worth thinking about how a pearl is formed.

A pearl begins life as an irritant that lodges inside an oyster’s shell.  This foreign object – whether a parasite, a small grain of grit, or something else – gets caught in the oyster’s soft inner body, and to ease the irritation and frustration, the oyster begins to take defensive action.  It secretes a smooth, hard nacre around the foreign object in order to protect itself and reduce the irritation.  Continue reading

So what does a crisis really mean?

Several years ago, while at several speaking engagements in China, one of my participants showed me how words in Mandarin Chinese are often combinations of several characters that also have independent meanings.  An example in English would be the word “stopwatch”.  “Stop” is an independent word, as is “watch”, and when combined, they create a third meaning.  I was so taken with some of the examples she shared that shortly after, I blogged about the word “listen” which in Mandarin made up of three radicals (or combinant characters) – ear, sound and heart (What does good listening really mean?).

Chinese_CrisisWell recently, a colleague in Singapore made me aware of the Chinese word for “crisis” which is made up of two radicals – danger and opportunity.  Wow!  Insightful or what?  As leaders, our days are filled with crises, some large, some small, all of which cause us varying degrees of frustration.  The frustration no doubt comes from the danger, but despite the heat of the moment, what if we were able to spot and focus on the opportunity?  Perhaps we could come out of the difficult situation better off than we were before.

What do you think?  Are you able to spot the opportunity in the face of danger?  Or is it easier said than done?

Leverage difficult situations into opportunities

AirplaneTakeOffDid you know that airplanes take off against the wind? It seems counterintuitive … you  would expect that it would be easier if the wind were coming from behind the aircraft, giving it a push. Yet in reality, it is easier for a pilot to take off when flying towards a full-force gale, rather than with it. The explanation comes from Newton’s Third Law of Physics … you remember, the one about how every action generates an equal and opposite reaction. When a plane thrusts into the wind, the fast air bearing down on the plane generates an upward force on the wings which helps lift the aircraft, thus allowing the plane to take off in a shorter distance.

Cool huh? Worth considering when everything at work seems to be going against you. Think about it for a moment … when setbacks occur, don’t you push back with an energy that allows you to lift up and above the difficulty? Sure you do! So make it more of a deliberate and conscious effort. Next time you’re faced with a problem or issue, ask yourself: what can I do to turn the negative force into an upward lift?

I would love to hear about how you’ve turned a headwind into a lifting boost. Or not! Please share online by leaving a comment below.

What would you do if faced with this leadership dilemma?

Last month I was asked for my opinion on a difficult decision facing the leadership of a residential boarding school in India.  I’ve already offered my perspective to the people who asked, but as I watched them struggle through their decision-making process, it occurred to me that leaders everywhere could learn from this situation.  True, many of you who subscribe to my blog do not work in educational institutions (yes, I know, some of you do!), but no matter what type of an organization you guide, you face leadership dilemmas, and they’re never easy!  So tell me what you think.  How would you handle this situation?

The dilemma: Should the school’s leadership cancel or go ahead with its planned Grand Reunion this June?

Background: This residential boarding school in India holds its Grand Reunion every five years, with the next one scheduled for this June.  Approximately 150 alumni from all over the world are planning to attend this year’s event.  The majority of alumni are located in India, but approximately 10% will be visiting from overseas (Europe, North America, Australia and other parts of Asia).  In early April this year, tragedy struck.  While on a school trip to a national park in the area, two 12-year old students were killed and 22 others injured when the tractor-trolley they were riding in overturned.  As a result of this event, two distinct sets of opinions have emerged.  Many people believe that the Reunion should be canceled.  Just as many believe that the show must go on.

The case for canceling: Because of the nature of boarding schools, students develop a very strong sense of kinship, and a very significant percentage of alumni go on to form lifelong personal and professional relationships.  If you’ve ever spoken to people who have attended a residential boarding school, most of them will tell you that there truly is a sense of family (much more substantial than in ordinary day schools), and for many, the deaths of the two children are felt similarly to the loss of one’s own child or sibling.  Those who believe that the Reunion should be canceled see it as a way to show their solidarity to the two families who lost their youngsters in this tragic accident.  Besides, who wants to celebrate when you feel like you’ve lost a member of your family?

The case for continuing: The other camp believes that life must go on.  While they don’t wish to minimize the seriousness of this accident, they also feel that resiliency is important.  Terrible things happen in life, and it’s important for those left behind to not only mourn but to also shoulder and carry on.  In addition, this group feels that in an attempt to respect the two families who have lost young ones, they would in fact be disrespecting a whole host of other people.  Many alumni, and not just those traveling from overseas, have scheduled vacation time, arranged for childcare, purchased airline tickets, and made hotel and other travel arrangements.  In some cases, this planning has been underfoot for over a year.  To cancel the Reunion at this late date would create financial and other implications for these people.

So you have it.  No matter which option is selected, a large number of people will be upset and angry.  You no doubt have faced situations in your workplace where the alternatives were just as unappealing.   But good leadership means that sometimes you have to make tough decisions. What would you do?

Leadership in action – how one organization managed a difficult situation

Approximately three weeks ago, I delivered a live webcast for CGA Canada, a national association for accounting professionals.  An unprecedented 3,550 people worldwide registered for this conference (it must have had something to do with the topic – Dealing With Difficult Personalities :)) and in the weeks leading up to the event, staff at CGA Canada took steps to ensure that their technology could handle this high volume of participants.  They checked that the virtual room was big enough, that the bandwidth was sufficient, that there were backups in case of power failures and telephone line breakdowns.  Unfortunately, there was one thing that didn’t come to mind, and as Murphy’s Law is known to operate, it was the one thing that threw a monkey wrench in the works!  They didn’t check the size of the door!  They had a large enough room to handle over 3,500 participants, but only one regular sized portal.  And in the 5 minutes before the webcast was supposed to start, thousands of people tried to walk through that door at one time!  They all got stuck, no one could move forward or backward, and the whole system ground to a slow halt. Continue reading