Stepping Up to Avoid Wallowing in the SwampThe December 1 issue of Fortune magazine has an in-depth profile of Satya Nadalla, the new CEO of Microsoft entitled “The Man Who is Transforming Microsoft.” Writer, Andrew Nusca, was “on the road with Satya Nadella’s traveling rival show” during a recent whirlwind tour of Europe. During those busy few days Andrew gained insights into why Satya’s showing very strong early success at Microsoft and the philosophies anchoring his leadership.

As we work with leaders dealing with disruptive change and relentless pressures to do more with less, we see huge differences in their critical choices of whether to lead, follow, or wallow. So this passage from Andrew’s article leaped out at me:

“in his chosen leaders Nadella prizes the abilities to bring clarity, create energy, and suppress the urge to whine. ‘I say, Hey, look, you’re in a field of shit, and your job is to be able to find the rose petals,’ as opposed to saying, ‘Oh, I’m in a field of shit,’ ‘he says. ‘C’mon! You’re a leader. That’s what it is. You can’t complain about constraints. We live in a constrained world.'”

We often crash into constraints during life’s most turbulent times or traumatic losses. These are major choice points. Do we ultimately become better or bitter? Do we climb the leadership stairs to a higher state of awareness and appreciation or do we slide down into the quagmire of hopelessness and despair?

For decades I’ve been using the SARAA formula below to outline our choices in responding to being tossed into the swamp. Often we find ourselves up to our eyeballs when we least expect it. When that happens, we often experience one, two, or all three of the first steps of the SARAA formula below. Whether we successfully get to step five depends upon whether we choose to wallow, follow, or lead.


The first three steps can get us bogged down in the wallowing swamp. This can be part of the grieving process that we might need to go through to let go of what was, face what is (step four), and move ourselves onward and upward with our lives (step five). If we eventually manage to climb the leadership stairway after the major setback or loss, we’ll often reflect back on the experience. “It was the best thing that ever happened to me.” “It made me stronger.” “I appreciate life more now.” “It reset my priorities to what’s really important.” “I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore.” “It forced us to make the changes we really needed to make.” “It shocked us out of our complacency.”

Steps one through three can be a time of emotional readjustment or healthy venting. But to get bogged down in any one of these stages is to stew in the swamp and begin breathing in the toxic vapors. We may find ourselves on an occasional detour through the emotional quagmire of why-me and this-isn’t-fair, but to languish there is deadly to our health, happiness, and success.

Tomorrow we publish my November blogs in the December issue of The Leader Letter. The first article looks at the vital topic of hardiness and resilience so vital to dealing with life’s many setbacks and problems. You’ll also look further at the emerging research and approaches to building strengths. This is a key element in building our resilience and effectiveness.

Whatever hits the fan is often not evenly or fairly distributed. Our choice is whether to wallow in it.