Most of us have never experienced anything quite like the operating environment we’re facing following the coronavirus outbreak. We’re being tested, with wide-scale adjustments to our daily lives on both a personal and business front. At times like this, it’s important to consider what we can learn from adverse situations, and how we can shape the experience of others for the better.
In discussion with Eloise Wellings, an Olympic track athlete, and Shannah Kennedy, life coach, we uncovered challenges that were overcome, leading to extraordinary outcomes.
Eloise Wellings faced physical and emotional challenges on her road to Olympic athletics qualification.
Wellings qualified for the Sydney Olympics at age 16, then withdrew, due to injury. She missed the next two Olympics, before she eventually stepped onto the track in London in 2012, fulfilling a dream she’d had since childhood. Then, at the 2016 Olympics, Wellings achieved a personal best in the 10,000m track event – making her the top placed Australian woman ever in the event.
Taking control in dark times
For Wellings a combination of determination, level-headedness and support from those around her got her through her darkest moments. [Note: how do we know this? Did she say it somewhere?]
According to life coach, Shannah Kennedy, these are key attributes leaders need to fall back on during times of adversity. Shannah works with business owners, sportspeople and high-achieving professionals to create plans for dealing with setbacks and building good habits. Her coaching comes with personal experience – she spent her twenties working seven days a week, climbing the corporate ladder and exceeding all her goals. But her success came at a cost.
“I developed adrenal burnout and chronic fatigue,” Kennedy explains. “That was a year off work, and four more years to recover. I thought I was invincible, but I had to realise I’m not a machine.”
During this time, Kennedy re-evaluated her life. She created boundaries, and built better habits, learned to say no, and developed preservation skills so that she could perform again.
That process formed the foundation of what she does today. Kennedy helps her clients foster confidence, optimism, flexibility and resilience, whether they’re athletes or business leaders. But she knows from experience it can be hard to be optimistic in an adverse moment.
When you’re leading a team, how do you do that? Kennedy shares four of her tactics.
1. Train your brain
“As a leader, you need to manage your own self talk,” Kennedy says. “Train your brain to recognise the path that will get you through a crisis.”
She suggests crafting a script that works for your mind. “If you tell yourself you are stressed, that it is a disaster, then it will be. So reframe your story – how would a calm, confident leader handle the situation?”
When injuries rocked her self-confidence, this is what helped Wellings move forward. “I stopped thinking too far into the future and just took one day at a time, taking some of the emotion out of situations.”
2. Be the voice of reason
Build trust in your team by leading with calm confidence. When you’re dealing with tough times, it’s important to be extra supportive, increase communication and build team cohesion.
“If the leader doesn’t have a healthy perspective on a situation, there’s no chance the team will either,” Kennedy says.
For Wellings, this support comes from her coach. “If I ever doubt myself, I know what he’ll say. I can show my vulnerability, and he’ll give me sound advice.”
3. Take setbacks as opportunities
Adversity can make you question your goals and maintaining a sense of purpose can be difficult when the outlook is uncertain. As Wellings’ story attests, it takes bravery to reframe challenges as opportunities.
“I learned to accept challenges and embrace the chance to use it for personal growth,” she says.
Some adversity is inevitable. In business, it’s important to ensure your plans are flexible and can respond to changing environments. .
Kennedy says leaders should look at setbacks as a way to upskill their people and make their businesses stronger.
“When it happens, think: we can get through this. This is a bump in the road, not the end."
4. Keep perspective
When they’re dealing with a challenging project, Kennedy reminds her clients to think about the bigger picture. “Remember why you come to work every day. Is it really about the outcome of this project?”
Today Wellings is an expert in looking at the bigger picture. She approaches adversity with the wisdom and perspective that only comes from battling setbacks and self-doubt.
“Adversity gives you two options,” she says. “You can shrink back in defeat, or face it head on and come through stronger than you would have been without it. We all have that choice to make in any difficult situation.”
And as she points out, success is sweeter when you’ve overcome challenges that once seemed insurmountable. “On the starting line at the London Olympics, I thought of all those times I had to dig deep and overcome injury and self doubt… I felt stronger when I realised I got through it.”