I once wrote that the true measurement of someone you work with (supplier, investor, etc.) is not how they normally act but how they behave in trying situations. The underlying principle is that it is easy to do the right thing when all is going well but you can understand a person’s true character in how they act in difficult times. Many people seem great when they do not have cash flow issues, when their company is hitting or exceeding its targets, etc. They will often talk about win-win relationships and seem fantastic to work with. Then when they have to make hard decisions, they may show they cannot be trusted or relied upon.
I recently came across an article that shows the same analysis can help you assess and improve yourself, You’re Only As Good As Your Worst Day on the Farnam Street blog. The post points out that assessing your performance when challenged is most instructive. They write, “it’s easy to look good when everything goes according to plan and circumstances are calm. Anyone can succeed for a while, even if it’s just out of pure luck. It’s no great feat to do well if you’re not being challenged or tested. Watching what happens during a downswing is far more instructive.”
How do you react to uncertainty and fear
For leaders, look at how you behave when faced with uncertainty and fear. A weak leader might retreat into their office or become defensive. A strong leader will deal with a difficult situation by bringing everyone together and being a reassuring, sympathetic presence.
People also remember how you act in a difficult situation. They will not focus on how you behaved when you exceeded your numbers or were given a promotion. Instead, what will be most telling is what you did when your product went down for the day or you had a falling out with the CEO. Those are the times when you show them what to model in the future. It is also the time when your team will make decisions whether they are committed long-term.
You can’t fake it
Behavior on challenging days will tell you (and others) about yourself because it is virtually impossible to fake. As they say in the article, “[i]t’s honest signaling. There’s little time for posturing or stalling. On your worst day, you reveal whether you’ve been planning for the possibility of disaster or just coasting along enjoying the good times. Your plans and preparation (or lack thereof) show how much you really care about the people who depend on you. You get to build and strengthen bonds in ways that will last a lifetime, or you risk destroying relationships in moments. You get to build trust and respect or you might break what you have irreparably.”
Awful days are invaluable
Your worst days are priceless. They represent a way to show the people around you your true nature. Most importantly, though, they are a window into yourself. Look back at some of your most challenging times, assess how you reacted, how you treated your colleagues and employees and the choices you made. Learn from these decisions so you can become the leader you want to be.
- Assessing your performance when challenged is powerful, as it is easy to look good when everything goes according to plan and circumstances are calm.
- Look at whether you retreat in the face of difficulty or are reassuring and bring everyone together.
- Gaze back at your worst days and assess how you responded, how you acted towards your teammates and staff and the picks you made. Learn from these decisions so you can become the leader you want to be.