Imagine being a player, coach or employee of the Los Angeles Clippers these last few months. Everyone associated with the team felt not only a lack of leadership and uncertainty about their futures, but shame and humiliation.
How do you survive something like that?
I think we can garner 3 lessons out of that extreme case of an organization in flux.
FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL
Doc Rivers, the LA Clippers coach: “My focus is completely on trying to figure out a way of eliminating the distractions. . . . This is a situation where we’re trying to go after something very important for us. . . . It does [have an impact], but you’ve got to move on. . . . That’s adversity that we didn’t want, but we have it, we’ll have to deal with it.”
To counter discouragement and even despair and keep their people moving forward productively, Alcoholics Anonymous has long urged its members to focus on what they can control and let go of what they cannot.
To use another sports metaphor, star baseball players say that when their offense is in a slump, they need to stay focused on playing good defense, keep at it on offense and wait for a better day to click in.
ANGER – NOT RESENTMENT
Doc Rivers again: the team “was pissed.” “This is not anything anybody wants to go through, and this is never good for anyone. . . . They’ll grow from it and they’ll be better people because of it.”
Referring to plans to run an off-ramp of an interstate highway through a low-income Latino neighborhood, a good friend of mine, many years ago, emphasized the importance of making a distinction between “being pissed” and getting resentful. Anger is a natural reaction to a threat. Resentment is settling into a life-negating spiral of outrage that ends up corroding yourself.
“Anger is not one thing. It is many things, loosely organized by language into a whole. It is . . . not the feeling of anger per se that has caused harm. Rather, the cold soup of enacted or contemplated self-righteousness or the hot energy of attacking others can easily lead to actions with negative consequences. But these need not be the core features of anger.” (1)
REMEMBER WHAT YOU LOVE
“When the [NBA] commissioner [Adam Silver] put this to me [becoming emergency interim chief executive of the Clippers], I said, ‘Hey, I love basketball,’ ” Richard Parsons said. “I don’t like basketball. I love basketball. It represents all the best in teams sports, and character building and it’s fun. I love basketball. I always have.”
The atmosphere may be foul, the future gloomy, prospects fading by the hour. But if I can dig down into what I truly like and enjoy about my work – not necessarily my job, but my work – then that may see me through some very difficult times and may become what transforms raw talent into polished skill, like tempered steel.
I know this is hard to do, a lot harder than fancy words make it seem. But if you walk into a factory, an office or a home where worry and uneasiness seem to rule, isn’t it the one bright, smiling, centered person there whom you will remember when you leave? Stay focused on what you love, and that energy may make you special.
And that is the part of all this about “flourishing.” Human nature seems to have this propensity for getting sucked into the “Sturm und Drang” all around us. Those who rise above that will stand out for their resilience and will find value either in the new organization or the next organization.
(1) ACT On Life Not On Anger, George H Eifert, Ph.D.; Matthew McKay, Ph.D.; and John P. Forsyth, Ph.D. 2006: New Harbinger Publications.