Friday, September 03, 2004

a leadership requirement: psychological hardiness

A meme that has been enormously helpful to me has been "psychological hardiness". I first encountered this concept in Kouzes and Posner's wonderful Leadership Challenge. A couple of years ago, Next-Wave ran a Leadership Primer I had written based mostly on this book.

Here's the excerpt from the Primer dealing with psychological hardiness:

Yet change is stressful. Accordingly, a leader must possess or develop “psychological hardiness.” Psychologists Suzanne C. Kobasa and Salvatore R. Maddi studied individuals in business who although in the midst of highly stressful situations nevertheless experienced low degrees of illness. By studying executives at Illinois Bell during the deregulation of AT&T and the Baby Bells, Kobasa and Maddi were able to identify certain characteristics that healthy individuals shared in distinction from those who were unhealthy in stressful situations. They discovered that individuals with psychological hardiness

1 – believed that they had an influence on their environment and acted consistently with that belief;
2 – consistently considered how to change situations for advantage and never accepted events at face value;
3 – regarded change as part of the normal course of events;
4 – viewed change as a helpful path to positive development; and
5 - were committed to learning and personal transformation.

In contrast, individuals who did not thrive physically in stressful environments held very different attitudes. They

1 – were bored with life;
2 – found life to be meaningless;
3 – considered change to be threatening;
4 – believed themselves to be at the mercy of their circumstances;
5 – prepared for the worst; and
6 – considered the status quo to be normal and viewed change as unusual.

Great leaders display psychological hardiness.

For the last couple of years, I've been reading 20th Century American History biographies with a special focus on Presidential biographies. Recently, after reading Geoffrey Ward's A First Class Temperament, which treats Franklin Roosevelt from his honeymoon with Eleanor to his election as Governor of New York, I turned to Doris Kearns Goodwin's Pulitzer Prize-winning No Ordinary Time, which covers Franklin and Eleanor through World War II.

In 1921 - when he was 39 years old - FDR was struck with polio. Roosevelt's response to the disease deepened his character and helped him to develop psychological hardiness. This characteristic of his psyche was seen at various points in his presidency.

One example was his response to the Battle of the Bulge. This battle began as a result of the Ardennes Offensive, the significant (and delayed) German response to the Allies' D-Day offensive that began with a massive assault on Normandy, France and continued as British and American troops drove to Berlin. Before this Offensive, where Hitler threw 2500 tanks and 250,000 German troops against 80,000 Allied troops, it had been hoped that the European War might be coming to an end. Goodwin writes:

For ten days, with a thick mist rendering Allied operations in the air virtually impossible, the Germans drove forward, outnumbering and outgunning the unprepared American troops. At the Schnee Eifel in souteastern Belgium, nearly nine thousand Americans were forced to surrender, marking the second-largest mass surrender in American history (Bataan was the first). For those who imagined that Germany was essentially defeated, this was a bitter and depressing period.

Through the worst days, Roosevelt remained calm. He followed the course of the attack on the wall charts in his map room, watching somberly as the red pins, signaling German forces, multiplied, forcing the green pins, signaling the United States, into a full retreat. Yet not once, Marshall [George C. Marshall, US Army Chief of Staff] marveled, did he seek to interfere in any way with Eisenhower's command; not once did he force the Joint Chiefs to explain how this disaster had been possible. He had relied on these men through the entire war, and he would continue to rely on them now. "In great stress," Marshall declared, "Roosevelt was a strong man."

Roosevelt's steadiness in the midst of the crisis kindled gratitude in Stimson [Harry Stimson, Secretary of War] as well. "He has been extremely considerate," Stimson recorded in his diary. "He has really exercised great restraint, for the anxiety on his part must have been very heavy" (pp. 564,565, emphasis mine).

Though Roosevelt was under great stress, the experience of polio had taught him a great lesson.
Regarding FDR during the anxious hours leading to D-Day, or Operation Overlord, Goodwin writes,

...Roosevelt remained calm.... In Eleanor's judgment, her husband was better able to meet the tension than many of the others, "because he'd learned from polio that if there was nothing you could do about a situation, then you'd better try to put it out of your mind and go on with your work at hand" (pp. 507,508, emphasis mine).

There are a host of biblical passages that speak to the basis for psychological hardiness in leaders of spiritual communities. Here are a few that come to mind:

Philippians 4:4-9 (all passages English Standard Version)

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me--practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Matthew 6:25-34

"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

But even when our temporal desires do not come to past, part of psychological hardiness is our awareness that as eternal people we live in the Not Yet.

Romans 8:18-25

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Those who follow us find psychological hardiness very compelling and reassuring because we are modeling for them faith in the One who loves us.

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