We have three immediate reactions when there’s sudden uncertainty: fight, flight, or freeze.

We’ve evolved those responses to escape imminent danger. But what happens when the stressors are more persistent?

Leadership is challenging at baseline and exhausting when navigating long-tail pandemic effects, economic uncertainty, global conflict, and political disagreement. In these situations, we can find ourselves instinctively wanting to fight.

The problem with fighting is that it’s grueling. It’s an inconsistent effort that requires a spark of passion that burns hot, bright, fast, and has a checkered record of success. Once the fire goes out, it needs healing, long-term recovery, and another spark to rekindle it, leading to a perpetual cycle of immense-yet-unproductive effort followed by still-unproductive licking of wounds.

Today, leaders don’t need to fight. They need to work.

Work means seeing where you want to go and pursuing that vision while acknowledging obstacles foreseen and unforeseen.

Work means having the emotional intelligence to know where you are and how your feelings fuel your response.

Work means adapting to your teammates and understanding their reactions to these emotional times.

Work means recognizing your limits and managing your energy so you can productively work again tomorrow.

Work means (borrowing from Duke basketball coach Kara Lawson) you become a leader who “handles hard better.”

Work means seeing missteps, mistakes, and misfires in the context of the greater whole so you can guide your team to the ultimate goal.

In the short term, it’s easy to see fighting as the way to go. It’s exciting and gets all of the likes and retweets. It feels good and meaningful.

Yet, while not undefeated, work gets the lion’s share of the results.

There’s a lot to fix. Let’s get to work.

P.S. It’s linked above, but the whole video from Coach Kara Lawson is worth a watch.