Leading Through Transition: The Three-R Model Might be the Answer

By: Hise Gibson and Adisa King

“Never Let A Good Crisis Go to Waste,” a phrase highlighted by Rahm Emanuel during the financial crisis in 2009, is relevant now during the COVID era. Tragedies seem to be necessary for people, leaders, communities, and currently, a nation to realize the frailties in life and realize what’s possible on multiple levels. Throughout American history, we seem to have gone through Tragedies to remind us of what’s essential. These crucibles trigger great disappointment when failure is a result of the tragedy. Conversely, there is an increase in risk tolerance because learning has occurred based on the setback, which creates pattern recognition the next time a similar situation arises. Mike Tyson famously stated, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” At the most basic level, how we respond to adversity is most important, mainly as leaders operate through dynamic transitions created by external environmental conditions.

There are many ways in which one can respond to adversity. The current environment requires mental agility and the ability to Refocus to progress. The Refocus starts with re-learning what’s essential (the needs), what’s useful (the wants), and what’s not (the desires). The critical part here is realizing you must account for your actions or lack of effort and accept the consequences. Accountability enables us not to be bound to the past but creates an imprint and updates our mental model. Derek Cabrera defines mental models to describe, summarize, predict, and lead to behavior in the real world. In the Refocus, there’s a reflection, re-looking, and remember. This part of Refocus enables you to create good habits, destroy bad habits, and provide you a higher sense of awareness to what we call the indicators and warning. More importantly, this prevents historical amnesia. Be careful not to live in the past. Understand your prior mental model in context. Don’t fall into the comparison trap of relating every situation to a previous adverse event. Being aware will help you to Refocus, transition, and Rebuild.

Leaders must engage and create positive results amid adversity. The landscape has always been dynamic; however, the speed of change has exponentially accelerated. The volume of teams that have similar burdens in the form of tragedy or adversity is unparalleled. A military framework that can enable leaders to rebuild, refocus and resolve issues is OODA, observing, orienting, deciding, and acting. We will now further unpack rebuild, refocus, and resolve and present how OODA enables leaders to operationalize how we power through adversity and create more productive teams.

The refocus starts in the temporal space because what you repeat to yourself shapes your thoughts and actions. The process of refocusing begins once we acknowledge that the current state is not the previous state. What are you doing today to refocus in the temporal space?

Following the temporal or mental space, there is a pivot to the physical space. Undoubtedly, discipline and consistency play an essential role, but the rebuilding physically is the opportunity to make structural change. The reorganization of your apartment, office, body, desk, car, etc., are all structural adjustments. Any activity that enhances your ability to refocus, then rebuild creates new routines that are additive. Lastly and above all is rebuilding spiritually. Only when human beings are close to death, tragedy, or failure is when most ask for support. Why wait? We realize this is a personal decision. Still, if this enables your efforts to rebuild, you will be at peace and truly understand what’s important. There’s no discussion on what actions needs to occur.

Finally, resolve is doing the right thing in its most nascent state because it is the right thing — another way to restate. Its Clarity in understanding what’s important. You are not distracted by Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, the slur, the slights, the undertones, the gossip, or anything that takes you away from truly what’s important. Also, the Tyranny of time, attention, and dwelling on our shortcomings. One approach to integrating the activities required to rebuild, refocus, and resolve sub-optimal outcomes is to utilize the military’s OODA Loop framework.

The OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) is a four-step approach that focuses on filtering available information in context and quickly making the most appropriate decision.

  1. Observe: Gather the feedback needed to learn. Feedback is data on the results that allow for the rebuilding needs to move to the next stage.
  2. Orient: Use analysis and expertise to assess relationships between actions and results.
  3. Decide: Use engagement and algorithms to improve decision-making.
  4. Act: Coordinate implementation across more people and specialties.

Refocus is your Commitment to personal accountability; Rebuild equates to Perseverance to fight through any friction; Resolve reminds you of your North Star and the Clarity needed to keep moving forward and set an example for yourself. It would be best to continually execute what Marine Corps Brigadier General calls “perennial learning” or “perennial” growth. Overall, you understand that there’s a guarantee for success. When it’s time to Rest, Rest, when it’s time to Work, Work. When it’s time to connect with family and friends, connect. Refocus, Rebuild, and Resolve empowers you to use all 86,400 seconds in a day!

Dr. Hise O. Gibson is an Academy Professor of Systems Engineering at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He graduated with a B.S. in Operations Research from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a Doctorate of Business Administration in Technology and Operations Management from Harvard Business School. His expertise is the intersection of operational effectiveness and human capital development to enable more effective ways to maximize the integration of Technology, People, and Processes throughout an organization

Adisa King is an Army Infantry Officer and is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. He is currently a student at the Army War College.