Turbulence Is an Opportunity, Not a Threat

This article was adapted from “21 Success Sutras for CEOs” by Professor M.S. Rao.

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” —Joseph Kennedy

When you look at leaders such as Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Boris Yeltsin, and Rudy Giuliani, the common thread connecting them is that they led with a cool and calm demeanor and overcame turbulent times. Winston Churchill was a wartime hero who led his country to victory during the World War II. Abraham Lincoln was the president at a crucial time in American history, when he had to work for the unity of the country and against slavery at the same time. Boris Yeltsin handled an army coup successfully by facing it head-on. Rudy Giuliani, as the mayor of New York, handled the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. These leaders remained calm during the crisis and set an example for others to follow. They were cool, composed, and charismatic in their leadership.

Rudolph W. Giuliani

Robert H. Schuller once remarked, “Tough times never last, but tough people do.” Rudolph W. Giuliani was the mayor of New York from 1994 to 2002. He displayed his amazing leadership skills during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on New York. At that time, his popularity was on the wane, and it was believed he would fade away into obscurity. But the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center brought his inner strength, potential, and character to the fore. Through his calm leadership, he brought remarkable strength and stability to New York when the city was clouded with uncertainty. He faced the crisis squarely, without losing his calm, led from the front, and consoled and reassured the public by building confidence in them. He said, “It is in times of crisis that good leaders emerge.”

Giuliani outlined six skills to excel as a great leader:

  1. Having strong beliefs
  2. Being an optimist
  3. Being courageous
  4. Preparing relentlessly
  5. Emphasizing teamwork
  6. Communicating clearly

Leaders must be prepared to face any crisis that may occur, whether in the shape of a terrorist attack, natural calamity, negligence within the system, or industrial accidents. Failure to control the crisis quickly may damage the organization’s credibility and goodwill. Whenever you are confronted with a crisis, be a part of the solution, not the problem. Of course, this is always very hard to remember in the heat of the moment! Michael Caine said, “Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.”

Hence, when hit with a sudden crisis, take a deep breath, look at the problem in detail, focus on the big picture, search for alternate solutions, shortlist the best one, and implement and execute effectively. Remember that all actions may not deliver the desired outcomes. Be prepared for failures. When you act in a calm manner, you will find a solution to your problems. At the same time, prepare not just Plan A and Plan B, but also Plan C, and so on, to manage the uncertainty.

Abraham Lincoln

It is true that some leaders deliver well during stress and crisis as adversity brings out the best in them. When stress delivers positive results, it is known as eustress. Vannevar Bush once said, “Fear cannot be banished, but it can be calm and without panic; it can be mitigated by

reason and evaluation.”

Leaders must control their emotions of anger and frustration and remain calm under pressure. It is essential for them to be seen as problem solvers in times of crisis rather than people who just complain. Staying calm during a storm will help you to come through with flying colors. The present global business environment demands not only soft leaders but also hard ones. When times are good, anyone can be at the helm. When the sailing is rough, the real leaders and CEOs come to the forefront to sail the ship successfully to the shore. Abraham Lincoln is a good example of a leader who led America during turbulent times. When America had twin challenges of slavery and Civil War, Lincoln demonstrated his leadership acumen by managing all stakeholders, including his political rivals, effectively to abolish slavery and ensure the unity of America. It is for this reason that many leaders look to Lincoln whenever they encounter leadership challenges irrespective of their political ideologies and countries.

A book on Abraham Lincoln, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin, describes how Lincoln related to people. The book describes how he brought into his cabinet people who were opposed to him, including three opponents for the Republican nomination, who, for the most part, thought Lincoln was a country bumpkin. However, within a year, he succeeded in getting these people to look up to him. His rivals were turned into allies because he had the confidence and wisdom to collaborate with the best people. It’s an inspiring story. Combining the perspectives of people from different backgrounds and with different viewpoints and expectations can be a source of advantage in the marketplace. Lincoln was a committed and dedicated leader who learned bitter lessons throughout his life mostly from his successive failures before he occupied the oval office as the first Republican, and 16th president of America. Hence, CEOs must take a leaf from Lincoln’s leadership.

Rising to the Occasion

Publilius Syrus once said, “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” The real leaders emerge during a storm. And real leadership skills emerge during a crisis. The leaders who fail to rise to the occasion during a crisis will never succeed as leaders. In fact, turbulence is not a threat but an opportunity to test yourself and help others to make a difference through performance. Kelly Corrigan rightly remarked, “Turbulence is the only way to get altitude—to get lift. Without turbulence, the sky is just a big blue hole. Without turbulence, you sink.”

Here is a list of leaders who led during turbulent times, saved their companies from the brink of disaster, and came through with flying colors:

  • Steve Jobs, CEO, Apple
  • Lee Iacocca, the CEO, Chrysler
  • Ed Whitacre, CEO, GM
  • Isaac Perlmutter, CEO, Marvel
  • Richard Clark, CEO, Merck & Co
  • Gordon Bethune, CEO, Continental Airlines

Every challenge is an opportunity for growth. Tough times call for tough and quick decisions. As such, CEOs must be well prepared to face tough times to ensure organizational stability and effectiveness.

Note: This article was adapted from Prof. M.S. Rao’s book, “21 Success Sutras for CEOs.” Visit: http://www.amazon.com/21-Success-Sutras-Ceos-Rao/dp/162865290X

International leadership guru Professor M.S.Rao, Ph.D., is the “Father of Soft Leadership” and founder of MSR Leadership Consultants, India. He is a leadership educator, executive coach, speaker, and consultant. He has 36 years of experience and is the author of 36 books, including “21 Success Sutras for CEOs” (http://www.amazon.com/21-Success-Sutras-Ceos-Rao/dp/162865290X). His book, “21 Success Sutras for Leaders (http://www.amazon.com/21-Success-Sutras-Leaders-ebook/dp/B00AK98ELI) was ranked as one of the Top 10 Leadership Books of the Year – 2013 by San Diego University, USA. His book, “Success Tools for CEO Coaches: Be a Learner, Leader, and Ladder” (http://www.amazon.in/SUCCESS-COAHES-LEARNER-LEADER-LADDER/dp/9351102491) is the Community Award Winner for 2014 by Small Business Trends, USA. He is passionate about serving and making a difference in the lives of others. His vision is to build 1 million students as global leaders by 2030 (http://professormsraovision2030.blogspot.in/2014/12/professor-m-s-raos-vision-2030-one_31.html). His vision program was ranked as one of the Top 10 Finalists in the Not-for-Profit category of Leadership 500 Excellence Awards 2015. He received 10th International Prestigious Sardar Patel Award2015 for Lifetime Achievement in the field of “Excellence in Youth Development.” Prof. Rao was honored as an upcoming International Leadership Guru by Global Gurus (http://www.globalgurus.org/leadership/upcoming.php). He serves as an advisor and judge for several international organizations, including Global Leadership Awards in Malaysia, Middle East Business Leaders Summits & Awards in Dubai, and Small Business Book Awards in the United States. Most of his work is available free of charge on his four blogs http://professormsraovision2030.blogspot.in, http://profmsr.blogspot.com, http://professormsrao.blogspot.com, and http://professormsraoguru.blogspot.com. E-mail him at msrlctrg@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @professormsrao.



Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D.
Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D., is the Father of “Soft Leadership” and the Founder of MSR Leadership Consultants, India. He is an International Leadership Guru with 43 years of experience and the author of 52 books, including the award-winning "See the Light in You" (https://www.amazon.com/See-Light-You-Spiritual-Mindfulness/dp/1949003132). He has published more than 300 papers and articles in international publications, including Leader to Leader, Thunderbird International Business Review, Strategic HR Review, Development and Learning in Organizations, Industrial and Commercial Training, On the Horizon, and Entrepreneur magazine. He is a soldier, entrepreneur, editor, educator, author, enlightener, and philosopher. He is a C-suite advisor and global keynote speaker. He brings a strategic eye and long-range vision, given his multifaceted professional experience that includes military, teaching, training, research, consultancy, and philosophy. He is passionate about serving and making a difference in the lives of others. He trains a new generation of leaders through leadership education and publications. His vision is to build one million students as global leaders by 2030 (http://professormsraovision2030.blogspot.com/2014/12/professor-m-s-raos-vision-2030-one_31.html). He advocates gender equality globally (#HeForShe). He invests his time in authoring books and blogging on executive education, learning, and leadership. Most of his work is available free of charge on his four blogs, including http://professormsraovision2030.blogspot.com. He is a prolific author and a dynamic, energetic, and inspirational leadership speaker. He can be reached at msrlctrg@gmail.com.