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Rudyard Kipling’s iconic poem, If was written in 1895 and has been quoted countless times ever since as an example of what strong character looks like. He penned the famous lines when he was just 30 years old, a year after completing another famous work, The Jungle Book, and several years following a difficult childhood that saw Kipling face many challenges. He was born in India, where he lived an idyllic life until the age of six, when he was sent to England to live with a foster family and benefit from the much sought-after formal British education. He was badly treated by his foster mother, Mrs Holloway, and struggled to fit in at school.

Kipling found his solace in books and stories, and was eventually rescued from his dire situation when his mother learned about what was happening and moved him to a new school in Devon, where he flourished and honed his writing skills editing the school newspaper. As a man, Kipling pursued a highly successful career in writing, rewarded by the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907.

Kipling’s was a life of high accomplishments and great personal tragedies – he lost a young daughter to illness and a son in the First World War. Yet his writing transcended everyday life and spoke to millions seeking enlightenment and guidance through his words. Even now, 125 years after the publication of If, the message ring true, particularly for those in leadership positions. Here are some thoughts around achieving goals, building resilience, handling change and looking to the future based on lessons that Kipling’s poem offers.

Goals and gains: dreaming

“If you can dream – and not make dreams your master”

Having dreams and ambitions is vitally important in business leadership, as is having the ability to engage your team in your vision. Goal setting comes with a huge responsibility – and a lot of hard work – to make your ambitions materialise. Staying focused and driven is vital to ensure that you can achieve what you set out to do. Commercial dreams are all very well, but they must be backed up by action and decisive leadership.

Another oft-quoted piece of wisdom in the business world is the SMART goal-setting acronym, which reminds us to choose ambitions that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable (or Agreed), Realistic (or Relevant) and Timely. Using these terms as a checklist when setting goals will help you craft meaningful, achievable ambitions that will ensure you remain the master of your dreams and not the other way round.

Staying firm: the art of resilience

“And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’ “

Resilience is extremely important in a manager. Teams take their cue from their leader in terms of how to act and – more importantly – how to react and feel about any given situation. This past year has seen many unprecedented business challenges as we all adapt to working life during a global pandemic.

We are living in a VUCA world (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity), which can make it hard to know how to approach challenges and unpredictable situations. Qualities such as self-awareness, self-motivation and self-management are all vital aspects of maintaining a resilient leaderships approach, as is the ability to positively influence your team’s own mental resilience and attitudes towards difficult times.



Adapting to change: the new normal?

“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you”

Our VUCA world is always shifting and changing, even without the arrival of a fast-moving, air-borne coronavirus. This can seem frightening with a clear plan about how to handle what’s happening. Even if we cannot predict events closely enough to formulate a comprehensive plan, we can still work on our ability to weather the storm and become more flexible in our thinking. It’s all too easy to panic when faced with a sudden problem and react instinctively – or blame others rather than trying to pull together.

Turning your attention to what can be done, rather than who or what got you into the changed situation is far more productive and will help keep everything on an even keel. Reframing failure, assumptions and blame into opportunities for gaining feedback, exploring new options and focusing on what you can learn will result in a more robust attitude to what could become ‘the new normal’

Into the future: planning and performance

“If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch”

Unless you work for the Royal household in a pretty senior position, you are unlikely to find yourselves walking with kings or queens that often during your business career. However, what is certain is that you will encounter a huge variety of people, holding all sort of jobs and positions and requiring very different forms of communication and interactions. One aspect of management that crops up regularly is the dreaded performance reviews and this is an area where what you say and how you say it can make all the difference between a successful encounter and an awkward, resentful experience.

Learning how to communicate effectively, including listening to others and actively showing them that you value their contribution, will make you a far more successful manager who can lead his or her team to great achievements in the future. Future planning is a vital part of leadership and the secret to long-term achievement. Learning how to successfully lead people now will engender trust from your teams, boost your own self-confidence and increase productivity.

After all…
“If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!”

Would you like to learn more about achievement in leadership and resilience during uncertain times? Speak to Gayle to find out about online and face-to-face training options available in 2020 and beyond.


[1] Source: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46473/if—, accessed 13 November 2020

[2]  Source: https://hbr.org/2014/01/what-vuca-really-means-for-you, accessed 13 November 2020

[3] Source: ‘Resilient Leadership: Beyond Myths and Misunderstandings’, by Karsten Drath, 2017, p24

[4] Source: The Leader’s Guide to Influence: How to use soft skills to get hard results’, by Mike Brent and Fiona Elsa Dent, 2010, p. 176

Post Author: Gayle Young