As a Leader, What Is Your First Resort?

Lots of people have talked and written about the last resort, whether it be in sports, politics, medicine, business or even marriage. It’s what we do when everything else that we have tried has failed.

Let me name a few. In football, it can be onside kicks and Hail Mary passes or in baseball bringing in the center fielder to pitch. In politics, it can be “kicking the can down the road,” declaring a state of emergency or blaming your predecessor. In medicine, it may be radical surgery or access to an as yet unapproved drug. In business, it may be a plant relocation, reorganization or firing the CEO. In marriage, it may be couples or individual therapy, separation or contacting divorcebusting.com

For me, I have often resorted to the Test Pilot’s Prayer: “God, help me now.” It has worked across a lot of different problem domains in my life.

But what about the first resort? What is the first thing you should do as a leader when encountering a difficult problem or situation? In my experience, far fewer people have tackled this concern despite its importance.

In this instance, we are not talking about a familiar problem where one can simply apply a previous solution with appropriate modifications and move on. Under discussion here are the difficult situations or problems that come our way; the need to terminate a very likeable employee, to close down a program, to launch a new business initiative, the discovery of embezzlement, an employee scandal, etc.

So what do you do? You could:

  • Act on the first solution you can think of that seems to solve the problem.
  • Get depressed, feel sorry for yourself, perseverate on such thoughts as “Why is this happening to me,” or “I don’t deserve this.”
  • Close your door and become paralyzed by fear and hope someone else will solve the problem.
  • Deny the problem or reframe the consequences (smooth it over).

Obviously, there are many choices that can be made and actions taken after the critical problem has come to your attention. So the question is, what should the first response be before all else and any action taken?

My suggestion is that leaders first of all ensure the fact that they have correctly identified the problem and that it has been thoroughly scrutinized on all sides. Said another way, the truth of a situation should not be avoided.

The first resort now becomes more obvious, but not necessarily easier. Identify the best solution in the context of doing what’s right.

“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but [we] must take it because conscience tells [us] it is right.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.



Proverbs 18:14 (ESV)

The will to live can get you through sickness,
but no one can live with a broken spirit.


Can't Not Do

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals

Oliver Burkeman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021)

I purchased this month’s review book, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, to see what more I could learn about the dynamics of time management. In actuality, the title of the book is misleading. Written by Oliver Burkeman, also author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, it has very little to offer in terms of new insights regarding time management and rather is a meandering work of philosophy and despondency around our human finitude.

This is not a book I would recommend across the board. While the jacket identifies it as a New York Times Best Seller, I doubt very much that the average manager seeking to be more time proficient or skilled will read more than a couple of chapters.

So who should read the book? Those individuals who acknowledge that they are consistently trying to stay on top of things, those who worry about work/life balance, those who feel “pressured,” those who are overly competitive, the compulsive planners and those who have already tried every time management system that’s out there.

While I gained some helpful insights, the book’s primary value to me was to note the perspective of someone who has a much different view of the world than me. For instance, my focus in life is not on “In the Long Run We Are All Dead,” (the title of the introduction) nor do I believe that life is “Beyond Hope” as the afterword seems to indicate.

The book does, however, identify some significant ideas to reflect upon, even if they may be a bit disquieting.

  • The title addresses the finality of our being on this earth. If we are fortunate to live to the age of 80 years, we will “roughly have 4,000 weeks before we die.”
  • Wouldn’t it make sense, therefore, to live a life in which you recognize that time is simply the water we swim in rather than something to be controlled or managed?
  • “At the end of your life, looking back, whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment is simply what your life will have been.”
  • “Hofstadters Law: Any task you’re planning to tackle will take longer than you expect.” I wondered if that reality had a name.

I found Chapter 10, “The Impatience Spiral,” most interesting. In this section, Burkeman deals with our rising expectations with respect to how quickly things should happen. He shares, for example, an interesting statistic. “It has been calculated that if Amazon’s front page loaded one second more slowly, the company would lose $1.6 billion in annual sales.” Likewise, the “Three Principles of Patience” in Chapter 11 were useful insights.

So here’s the summary thought of the book in the author’s own words:

“Entering space and time completely”–or even partially, which may be as far as any of us ever get—means admitting defeat. It means letting your illusions die. You have to accept that there will always be too much to do; that you can’t avoid tough choices or make the world run at your preferred speed; that no experience, least of all close relationships with other human beings, can ever be guaranteed in advance to turn out painlessly and well—and that from a cosmic viewpoint, when it’s all over, it won’t have counted for very much anyway.”

As I mentioned, this is not a book for everyone. I believe the author’s research has resulted in a distorted perspective. Problems in thinking can’t be solved by thinking more.

I end this book review with a quote from Blaise Pascal and then John Maxwell.

“People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive. If I believe in God and life after death and you do not, and if there is no God, we both lose when we die. However, if there is a God, you still lose and I gain everything.” ~Blaise Pascal

“When there is no hope in the future, there is no power in the present.” ~John Maxwell

Until next time,

Art Dykstra

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