As a Coach, I get excited when I catch a team succeeding. It’s even more special when it happens in unfavorable times since it shows that the team is resilient. In my journey, I have experienced a lot of high-performing teams, and once a team builds resilience, you know they can tackle anything that comes their way. A team like this navigates challenges with enthusiasm, optimism, and grace, and it is a joy to experience. It takes great courage to show up with intentionality when times are tough.
On Wednesday evening, we had just wrapped up a day of learning and development at the Leadership Enhancement Institute (LEI) Program. The Women Leaders in College sports host this program every year. It provides career development talks/workshops to help young professionals in college athletics on their journey. I was fortunate to be participating this year & soaked in the experience.
Day 1 was behind us. At the end of a day filled with inspirational learning & meaningful conversations, our spirits were light and reflective. It had been barely 30 mins after we had said our goodbyes and retired for the night. The lights went out and there was a blackout in our block and the hotel lost all power. I was on the phone with my husband reflecting on the wonderful day when this happened & my heart stopped for a minute.
What I felt and witnessed over the next 24 hours taught me a lot about myself & also about what type of leadership it takes to navigate times like this. I developed a better understanding of a trait all teams need to develop — resilience!!
Stay Together & Stay Present
Within 5 mins of the blackout, the cohort I was part of started reaching out with comforting messages showing support. One of the coordinators of the conference (Kara) started sending periodic updates via email to keep everyone informed. I shared my whereabouts and key information with my husband in case we lost touch.
At first, I was upset and nervous about the situation. Then when I read Kara’s email, I sensed the extreme sincerity in it and my heart melted. The blackout that occurred because of the power outage was beyond anyone’s control. I believed in my heart the organizing committee would navigate this and lead us to safety & I also knew my cohort had my back.
In the meantime, there was no sign of the power coming back. The initial prediction of 30–45 minutes changed to the power being restored in the middle of the night or early morning. This meant we had to individually & collectively find a way to get through this.
I could feel a cloud of uncertainty and fear taking over:
How was I going to personally cope with this situation, get a good night’s sleep and get ready for Day 2’s discussions in the development program?
How would the organizing committee be able to navigate this situation with such a large group (80 of us) staying at the same hotel?
Crisis invokes our Inner Resourcefulness
With darkness surrounding us, it was time to get some shut-eye.
Sleeping in a pitch-dark hotel room that you’re unfamiliar with did not seem inviting, so I opened the curtains & let the moon light in. I had limited experience with something like this personally and took it as a challenge. There was a learning here, for sure. I had to stay present and aware of my surroundings. Thank God it was a beautiful full moon day! I was grateful for that.
The next challenge was my cell phone. I had 18% charge left & even if I turned off all my apps & dimmed the screen light, it still was not enough to last the night. I plugged the phone into a power outlet just in case the power did come back in the night.
The last thing I needed to do before getting a good night’s sleep was to calm my mind down. I started to think of happy things, reflecting on the wonderful day we had instead of this challenging situation. The meaningful conversations & connections from the day brought a smile to my face. I thought of my husband and my family, and a sense of comfort came over me.
Although I calmed my mind down and tried to get some sleep, I was still thinking of my phone running out of charge in my subconscious. I jumped out of bed at 3:00am with an idea — my phone had a mini-USB connector & there’s a possibility it would charge from my laptop. My laptop was 100% charged, so I was in luck! It worked & now I could really try to sleep peacefully without worrying about my phone dying and being stranded in case of an emergency.
The mind is fascinating, isn’t it? Even if you are consciously thinking of things, there is always a subconscious thought prevailing in the background. Our resourcefulness kicks in during challenging times, but only if you stay present and calm.
I thought of my favorite scene from the movie Kung Fu Panda where the wise Oogway shares his wisdom with Po … and reminds him to stay present.
“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present”. ~ Oogway (Kung Fu Panda)
Every Storm Passes Over
Morning could not come sooner & none of us had had a good night’s sleep, most of all the conference organizers. They had been up all night trying to coordinate with the hotel staff and arrange for our meals & logistics to continue with Day 2 of the development program.
The morning started with my cohort checking in over text messages & new emails from Kara (our event organizer). The good news was my phone was 100% charged. It was a blessing! The room was still dark in some of the parts & using the iPhone’s flashlight feature, I managed to get ready to head down to the lobby for Day 2. What an adventure it had been so far!
Most of us were tired & disoriented from the previous night’s experience but we knew we had to get it together. We were grateful we had each other’s support & that nothing major had happened. It could have been worse.
What I observed was:
1. Humanness in all of us — The outpouring of love & support for the entire group stood out to me. When a group of people go through an unfavorable experience together, bonds start to develop.
2. Vulnerability & Care from the committee — The entire committee was apologetic and vulnerable which made us all feel at ease. We felt like we were hearing the whole truth & that we were in good hands.
3. Ability to pivot & continue with the program — Overnight the committee had worked with the hotel to make alternate arrangements for us to continue with Day 2 of the development program in a partnering hotel walking distance from this one.
Through all this, what stood out was how graceful and welcoming everyone on the committee was despite the severe stress and uncertainty they had been put through. It was hard to think that there had been a power outage at 10:00pm the previous night & at 9:00am the next day, we had all eaten a nice breakfast & were kicking off another day of learning & development with LEI.
In every conversation with a committee member, I sensed their vulnerability.
“Vulnerability is not about winning; it is not about losing. It’s having the courage to show up when you can’t control the outcome” ~ Brene Brown
A Few Takeaways for Teams
When I reflected on this experience several things stood out to me as lessons for teams on their journey to high performance.
1. Stay present to tap into our own resourcefulness — When we can stay present, we stay calm and we are able to see the forest from the trees. When this happens in a challenging situation, we find creative solutions to problems. It’s brilliant & magical!
2. Be graceful under pressure — We all know change is a constant and every team needs to be able to navigate change without too much disruption. When teams exhibit “grace under pressure” the journey is meaningful, human connections start to develop & there is a sense of togetherness.
3. Be vulnerable and human — When we can be vulnerable with each other, lean on each other and get through challenging times together, we allow ourselves to be human and develop deeper bonds with each other.
I’m grateful for this experience as challenging as it was personally, collectively for the group and most of all for the organizing committee. In this post-pandemic time where we realize the importance of human connections, this experience brought us together in a way that we will always remember.
What a beautiful story for the Women Leaders in College Sports team to learn & draw strength from. What a great way to witness resiliency in action!
As we wrapped up 2 days of learning, networking & meaningful conversations I remember the words Patti Phillips, CEO at Women Leaders in College Sports shared with us, as we were coping with the uncertainty as best as we could.
“Champions adjust.” ~ Billie Jean King