The Stuff of Life

The Stuff of Life
For those of us who find nature to be both aesthetically beautiful and life-sustaining.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Do You Have What It Takes To Be A Leader In A Survival Situation Or Emergency? How Adversity Creates Survival Leaders

You may have told yourself and others that you are a "natural leader." You may have gone into interviews professing that you have a leadership background. Maybe you've had people following your lead for as long as you can remember. But, unless you've led under extreme circumstances, you don't know if you really have what it takes to be a leader in a real survival situation.

Without having been through life or death experiences, military training, or really lived an event of catastrophic chaos, you can only surmise as to whether your workplace leadership experience will be of any real value when terrified, panic-stricken people are struggling for something or someone to lead them through and out of the circumstances for which they were ill-prepared or have no control over.

There are ways to know, however, whether you may have the qualities, characteristics, and skills of a true survival or emergency leader. Search your background and your life experiences for the worst times you have endured, the most traumatic events you have navigated, and the most devastating moments you have overcome. Jot these times, events and moments onto a list. The people with the longest lists may very well be the "natural leaders" of the pack. Not because they were born that way from a variety of innate qualities and talents that were bestowed upon them via a predetermined swim in a genetic pool. But, because every ounce of adversity that we humans are exposed to causes us to either weaken, strengthen or become immune and indifferent.

We have all met people that have endured very little negative life experiences. They have, for the most part, been blessed from the moment of birth. They had things handed to them easily from toys to cars, college was paid for, the degree came easy, the jobs poured in, they never wanted for anyone or anything. We hate these people when we should feel rather badly for them. A protected and sheltered environment will stunt deeper development. 

Every animal develops survival abilities from having been exposed to external stress and dangers. For our ancestors, this external stress and danger may have had claws, teeth and an empty stomach. In our modern world, that external stress and danger can be financial, relationships, marriages, inter-personal violence, job loss, emergencies, disasters or even from kennel madness culminating out of confinement eight hours a day inside an office cubicle. The psychological and physiological responses to stress and danger in our modern brains is still happening in the same way as it did in our ancient brains but, with the additional neurotic energy we have accumulated from not getting enough exercise and sunshine's vitamin D. We are no longer chasing and tracking our food as we can pull up and have it brought right to us at a window. The energy released is minuscule today when compared with our energy release of distant times. Whether ancient stress or modern stress, external exposure to environmental stress affects our mind and our bodies. How we handle that stress, how we navigate and circumvent that stress, how we acclimate and adapt to that stress, how we problem solve around that stress and how we overcome and work our way THROUGH that stress are the ingredients of our core adult development and personality and the predictors of our strength, tenacity and survivability.

If you have successfully navigated painful and traumatic life events then all of that adversity that you see on your list was worthwhile in terms of personal development. You may wish you had never been through any of it, but IF you went through it, experienced it, felt it, navigated it, problem-solved it and ultimately overcame it to land on your feet, you are a survivor. Every one of those moments is one more point on your survivor list. Add them up, do you have a lot of points? If you have at least 5 points then you may very well have accumulated enough life experience and personality development to acclimate successfully in an intensely stressful, dangerous and frightening environment. 

The more you have adapted and overcome in your life, the more your ability to be strong in the face of adversity and the greater your ability to lead others through it. The focus is on the "overcoming" of the adversity. Some people become stuck or crippled by their adverse circumstances and never fully overcome or become stronger for them. While others, may have had so much exposure to adversity that they are immune, numb and perhaps detached from stress. Neither of these personality types would be adequately prepared to lead others in a survival situation and even if they could it might not necessarily be good for them until they have worked through their own trauma and emotions related to the trauma. 

Some of the qualities that are developed under adverse circumstance include:

The will to live
Strength of mind
Strength of character
Adaptive ability
Ability to think coherently and efficiently under duress
Ability to formulate a plan and problem solve while under stress
Ability to have hope in situations that appear hopeless 
Bravery (not the same thing as fearlessness which is rarely, if ever a good thing)
A sense of humor to balance stress 

This list is not all-inclusive, but it shows the multiple ways that we grow and personally develop to become stronger willed, stronger minded and better apt at keeping a cool head in and around chaos. The number one greatest strength that adversity provides is the same as it provided to our ancestors....the ability to adapt and overcome to changing circumstances and environments.

None of this will make it any easier to go through painful or difficult experiences, but it will shine a light on how we grow as people. The majority of our character growth comes from life experiences and human interaction. Leaders are developed, they are not born, and they are not prenatally created or raised. Development takes time and a degree of acclimating and navigating difficult circumstance and life terrain. A true survival leader will have many of the qualities of the above list and will have endured AND overcome very difficult, if not traumatic, life events. These are the developed survival leaders in our world. Do you have what it takes to be a leader in a survival situation or emergency? If your life has been a little too easy, you may think you are ready, but I wouldn't want you leading me.

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