For those of you old enough to remember the 1985 film – The Jewel of the Nile – you may remember the film’s theme song “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” which became a number 1 hit for singer, Billy Ocean
Interestingly whilst the film has probably been forgotten or is unknown to younger generations, I still hear people using the phrase “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”. I think that is because resilience is a human trait that we all recognise and respond to regardless of age, gender, culture, etc. That’s why stories of people overcoming huge odds to succeed are so popular and emotionally moving.
As a leader, resilience is probably the trait you will need the most. When things are difficult or tough, you have to be able to keep calm and find solutions. You have to be able to bounce back quickly when things to wrong. You have to keep going even if it feels like everything and everyone is against you.
Why do you need this trait the most? It’s because when you are a leader, you will be the first to be criticised when things don’t go well, even if it isn’t your fault, and the last to be praised when things do go well. You will be criticised when you try something new because change can feel threatening or because it is new. It doesn’t matter how much success you have had in the past, that will be forgotten if you make a mistake. And it isn’t just me saying that.
In her book, ‘It’s Tough at the Top’ Debra Allcock Tyler, chief executive of the Directory of Social Change, drew on her extensive experience of the voluntary sector. In her words
Chief executives in the voluntary sector aren’t seen as human and nobody likes them. They are criticised, sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly, the moment they step into a senior role. It’s a very, very lonely job
It isn’t just Charity CEOs who find it tough. It truly is tough at the top for leaders in an increasingly complex, global world where the pressure to deliver on limited resources is strong. We see leaders who may have had hundreds of success stories in their career, be brought down by one mistake.
I don’t want this to sound like a whinge fest. Despite the disadvantages, I feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to become a CEO and wouldn’t want to do anything else at this stage of my life. Why?
1) By being a CEO, I can give others the opportunity to be brilliant. There is nothing more personally satisfying than seeing good people who are junior to me, develop into being even better.
2) I can use my skills and hard earned experience to help shape the direction of my charity. How brilliant is that?
3) I have the privilege of being the person who gets to see the whole picture first.
Finally, let me share with you what helps me when things get tough (and it isn’t singing the Billy Ocean song).
1) Having a good support system and not being afraid to talk to them about what I am finding difficult.
2) Walking the dogs on Hampstead Heath on my own.
3) Remembering all the truly inspiring men and women I have had the huge privilege to know, who, despite facing circumstances that most ordinary people would find daunting obstacles, have kept going.
To end there is a quote by Theodore Roosevelt that I know a number of people, including myself, have read or re-read when the criticism can feel too much and which pretty much sums it up for me.
It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.