succeed in a turbulent environment you need a robust psychology. This
is where many fall short. They clutch when they could reach. When faced
with calamity they set their sights on survival rather than leadership.
Rather than going for real opportunity they set their sights low. If
the game changes and you don’t, it’s game over.
I have had the honor to work side-by-side with true visionaries. For
example, I spent two years at the World Bank helping Jim Wolfensohn
while he was president.
Not a day went by when there was only one crisis in full swing:
political coups, natural disasters, economic meltdowns, wars, famine,
and drought. They are all in a day’s work when the entire planet is
I sometimes found myself overwhelmed by the constant onslaught of
challenges around the world, let alone the inner dramas leaders are
enmeshed in as political factions seek to prove them wrong or take them
Yet, Wolfensohn remained on his game for a full decade. Not only did he
lead effectively during large-scale major financial catastrophes like
the Asian financial crisis of 1997, he was able to introduce major
innovations that achieved global impact such as the Comprehensive
Development Framework (CDF) of 1999.
In the midst of disaster and calamity he was able to see clear and push
through policy that forever improved the way the world addresses some
of its most difficult and intractable problems, changing the game of
development for the forseeable future.
Here are seven things you can do to build psychological strength:
1. Feed your mind
Pay attention to what you read, listen to, and watch. Read quality
journalism; don’t get lost in the pundits’ pandemonium. Keep your media
habits in control.
2. Associate with
Choose peers and social activities that place you in proximity to
people who play hard and well.
3. Focus on
You may not be able to control what appears in your mind, but you can
control what you keep there and cultivate. When thinking about the
future, don’t get lost in what-if scenarios unless you’re doing
scenario planning. Put your attention on the future you want to bring
into existence and the path from here to there.
4. Focus on Lessons
As you review past experience, mine it for lessons learned, knowledge
you can use, appreciation of those who contributed, and leave it at
that. Don’t spend too much time on blame or judgment. Think of the past
as a pile of building materials and select the best for constructing
5. Build Capacity
through Intentional Stress
Body builders go to the gym to subject themselves to controlled,
intentional stress. Building psychological strength is no
different. Purposefully engage in activities that take you to your
limit, but control the intensity carefully. You want to be stretched
beyond current capacity, but not exposed to injury.
Take time out to recuperate. Muscles don’t develop if they don’t have
time to rebuild. This literally means time to sleep as needed. And it
also means time to eat healthy, and engage in activities that you enjoy
7. Maintain Strong
Everyone needs personal time. Down time provides the space you need to
reassess, integrate, have fun, and plan your personal objectives. This,
too, increases your ability to take heat.