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Smoothing the Curve

“I feel like I’m on a roller coaster,” the leader I’d been coaching said to me.

“A roller coaster, how so?” I asked.

“I have moments where I feel like I’m on top of the world,” they said with a slight smile.

“Then something happens that rips the floor right from under me,” they continue as their smile disappears.

“In those moments my confidence just seems to evaporate, and it takes weeks to rebuild.”

“And what’s worse,” they conclude, “my team see it and feel it too.”


Riding the roller coaster

The term ‘roller coaster’ seemed very apt when I reflected on the conversations I’d had with leaders over the years. Even for myself I remember the days when I was riding high, ploughing through the work, and feeling invincible. Then suddenly something would come from left field that would take the wind right out of my sails, eroding my confidence.


Peaks and troughs

Applying the analogy of the roller coaster means that our existence will naturally involve peaks and troughs as we navigate through the experiences that we have each day, each month, and each year.

It’s natural that in day-to-day life that things happen which help us fly, or which floor us. This is just a part of the world we exist in. Unfortunately, as humans however, we have a bias for negativity, which relates to our natural survival instinct. This means the negative things will almost always impact us more than the positive ones. Hence it takes most people longer to rebuild their confidence after it gets knocked.


Choosing our response

Viktor Frankl, a survivor of Aushwitz is quoted as saying:

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Core to the human condition is our freedom to make choices, and with this comes the responsibility to choose our response to any event more consciously.

Often when positive and negative events happen, our reaction is unconscious. That is, our instinctive response which is driven by the activation of our human dilemmas, especially our desire for survival, dictates how we behave. Despite this and although our cognitive response will always be delayed from our instinctive one (i.e. we feel before we think), it doesn’t mean our emotional instinct should dictate our rational analysis. Instead, we can learn to pause and create a space in any event so we can choose more consciously what we do next.


Sustaining confidence = smoothing the curve

Sustaining our leadership confidence as we ride the roller coaster of modern life requires us to smooth out the curve. That is, there will be peaks and troughs, but neither need to be so intense.

To smooth the curve, we must more consciously recognise when we’re feeling good and celebrate this, but not so much that it creates too high a peak. Then, when we’re in a trough, rather than allowing it to impact us too deeply we should consciously shift our state by seeking to rapidly learn and move forward using these lessons.

This approach does not mean that we stop riding the roller coaster, it just means that the highs and lows are more manageable, as is our confidence in how we seek to show leadership going forward.

After all, as Public Enemy say…

“Never let a win go to your head, or a loss to your heart.”


Something to consider…

Take a minute to remember a time when you were at a high, and a time when you hit a low. For the high, what helped create that? For the low, what did you learn from this experience?


Something to try…

Next time you’re riding high, recognise how it feels and celebrate what you’re achieving. Then, when you’re hitting a low, catch yourself and ask – What caused this? What can I learn? How can I consciously choose my response?


About The Purposeful Leader

Every leader rides a roller coaster with the natural highs and lows that results. At The Purposeful Leader we help you build and sustain your confidence as you seek to achieve the success and fulfilment you desire.

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