One of the first lessons I learned as an FBI agent is that my training would continue long after I graduated from the FBI Academy. I would spend many long hours in my career preparing for the unknown, because when times get tough it’s too late to start learning how to cope with adversity.
Like most normal people, I did not intentionally chose to immerse myself in situations where I faced risk, failure, and humiliation. This is something we learn to avoid at an early age—good grades, solid track records, and exceptional performance appraisals are the markers we need to get ahead in life.
Modern leaders are trained to think similarly: they use strategies, formulas, communication skills, emotional intelligence, and many other fine programs to avoid adversity and measure risk.
If business and life were confined to the pages of best-selling books and motivational speaker programs, this would be enough. Leadership is easy when things are going well, targets are being met, clients are satisfied, and everyone is performing at their best. The challenge is when times get a little tougher—when budgets get tighter, resources are spread thinner, and expectations are harder to meet.
How can you keep you and your team focused to ride the storm?
As an FBI agent, I was trained to anticipate the worst case scenario so I could land on my feet when confronted with the unknown and unexpected. Here is what I learned from my training and experiences:
1) Communicate with Positivity, Not Optimism
- Optimists expect a light at the end of the tunnel.
- Positive thinkers do not expect a light at the end of the tunnel but know they’ll reach the end anyway.
This subtle, but important, difference between optimism and positivity is essential for leaders who plan to ride the storm. Positive thinking is evaluating the situation with candor and presenting a realistic approach to team members on how they will need to move forward if they are to succeed.
Rumors will have a harder time getting started if the leader is brutally forthright and honest in their communications. Positivity provides a framework around which honest conversations can move difficult situations toward a productive outcome.
2) Chose Words Consistent with Honest Emotions
In FBI interviews and interrogations, a lot of attention is paid to the language used by the subjects of our investigations. Subjects will provide answers meant to please or assuage the situation, and while they are saying the right things, it is their bodies that betray them—they are lying!
If there is not consistency between the words you use and your emotions, it will become apparent to your team members that you’re faking it.
3) Prepare for Storms
No responsible homeowner waits until a storm hits before weatherproofing their windows. As a leader, you cannot expect to ride the storm of adversity with no preparation either.
Forget about being perfect—go ahead and push yourself to the point of failure! These activities will train your limbic brain to become more comfortable with uncertainty. You will also be able to predict your responses with more accuracy—something else your limbic brain will like.
Many times we are not confident we can ride out a storm because we are programmed to be risk averse. When storms hit, our automatic responses is not to react in positive ways that will help us to overcome the adversity. Training ourselves to anticipate our responses allows us to control them.
A bend in the road is not the end of the road… unless you fail to make the turn~anon
LaRae Quy was an undercover and counterintelligence FBI agent for 25 years. She exposed foreign spies and recruited them to work for the U.S. Government. As an FBI agent, she learned that surviving in an environment of risk, uncertainty, and deception takes mental toughness. LaRae is the author of ““Secrets of A Strong Mind.” Sign up for her FREE Mental Toughness Mini-Course and follow her on Twitter