“It’s them, not me”.
That’s effectively what Carol Bartz, former CEO of Yahoo (YHOO), has been saying in the few days since she’s been fired.
Well, she said it more “colorfully” than that to Fortune’s Patricia Sellers:
“These people f—ed me over,” she says, in her first interview since her dismissal from the CEO role late Tuesday.”
I find some humor in this response. Because what Carol told me when she fired me applies here: “Even if you’re right on the topic, but you don’t have followers, you’re effectively wrong”. It seems her Board of Directors was, well, not on board with her leadership. And her team was not following her, if Glassdoor is an adequate indicator. Some smart posts here, here, and here, question whether she was ever the right person for the job. I wonder now if the situation ever lent itself to a turnaround as I re-read this advice, in an Open Letter to Carol Bartz. And even though it’s clear there’s plenty of blame to go around, I’m dismayed by her current approach which sounds a lot like “it was them, it was them, it was all them”.
This is not unexpected. Neuroscience research, tells us that an immediate challenge creates a surge of chemicals that promote the “fight or flight” response. It’s not hard to see the chemicals at work in what Carol is exhibiting right now. And, with some empathy, we can appreciate that any one of us could apply this approach when bad things are happening to, and around us. It’s just old-patterns at play; our first response might not be our best response.
Beyond the obvious lesson of “we must take our own medicine”, I’ve been wondering what other lesson this provides for the rest of us … When bad things happen – a failed start-up, a break-up, a calamity in our lives, a job-loss in private, or a public firing—how do we want to respond?
While this is not how I want to respond, I often start out with resentment. And resentment is perhaps even too soft a word actually. You might recall the story I shared recently where I just couldn’t get over the unfairness over a situation, where I felt I hadn’t done anything wrong. And so, I was stuck from making any forward motion until I got the much-needed kick-in-the-pants. In that case, I just wanted the bad-thing that was happening to just not-be. I’d rather not deal with the consequences and disruptions and need to change (so, if things could just kindly go back to the way things were…?).
In effect, I want to “leap back” to when the bad thing hadn’t happened, rather than into what is going on.
That’s why I was so fascinated when I first learned the basis for the word resilience, which is Latin for “to leap back”. Applied to my countless failures and desire for things to return to the original state, I wonder if that make my many initial responses “resilient”? But to be truthful, I know it doesn’t. Darn it. I’ve come to realize that to be resentful is to demand of the world that it change, rather than finding ways I could respond.
So, on deeper consideration, it seems that resilience is different than what the Latin basis tells us at first glance. Resilience is that, in spite of the loss or calamity or hardship, we are able to rebound.
Resilience is the opposite of being pushed around, and pushing back. It is the opposite of being thrown off course by what life’s calamities bring us. It is not retaliatory. Resilience does not demand that life’s experiences change. And, no, it is not resentful of what life brings your way. The description of resilience as rebounding evokes pictures of the Weebles, the 70’s toy, that “wobble but won’t fall down”. Lots of things can happen to Weebles, but they always returned to a stand up position, ready for the next adventure.
Rebounding is quite different than the resentment that Carol (or I, and many others) demonstrates when she says “it’s their fault”. Rebounding is not to blame others, but to find a resourcefulness inside ourselves that lets us ‘leap back’ into our own strength. To be resentful of what has happened to us, make us victims. Something happened to us, and we are powerless because it was ‘their fault’. To be resilient is to identify something in us that is stronger – a place that we return to, and holds a certain hope that we can handle any next calamity that much better. To be resilient is to be the hero of the story, knowing we are able to handle what is next.
What would it be like to be as resilient as, say, the Weebles? And what would be the things that let us have a center to return to – perhaps clearer priorities, perhaps a different or redefined sense of purpose, perhaps identifying some values that become central to the way one’s life is lived? With those in place, maybe each of us can be more resilient — springing back to our centers, being more of who we are, better at functioning and being, in spite of the loss or calamity. To be resilient then is to rebound into our own strength, back into our most capable selves, into our evolving and growing truth. It comes down to this choice: are we victims of what happens to us, or heroes of an unfolding story before us? I’d like to believe that it’s the latter, for all of us. For Carol Bartz of course. But, also, especially for all of us who have suffered loss. May we all be Weeble-like resilient, and see ourselves as having strength to be the heroes of our own next, unfolding story.