Leadership Lessons: It’s Adversity That Defines Who You Really Are

When you are in a seat of leadership, challenges arise.

Although they are rarely matters of life and death, they can be treacherous in their own regard. These will test your ability as a leader, and your legacy will be judged by the actions you choose to take to lead the people in and around your organization who must help.

Some challenges are necessary for growth and progress.

Maybe it’s an acquisition of another company, or a reorganization of the corporate structure. It could be a planned divestiture of an underperforming unit, or the launch of a new product or service. These are necessary challenges that help organizations to succeed, but there are also the unplanned events, sudden and unexpected problems that arise without warning.

“Embrace what you actually get”

We see these unexpected problems in today’s current events, like the bursting of an economic bubble or an unexpected product recall that showers a company in bad press. It could be a sudden event, like a leak of confidential client information, or something slower and less tangible, like a shift in customer or market preferences

The Greek slave Epictetus, who went on to eventually become a philosopher, once said: “Circumstances do not rise to meet our expectations. Events happen as they do. People behave as they will. Embrace what you actually get.”

Epictetus’s words are powerful. All too often people focus on what should have happened or what they hope will happen — they forget to look at what their actual circumstances are.

Difficulties are always going to arise, but it’s not the situation, it’s how you handle it. How you lead when the significant challenges occur is critical because it defines who you really are.

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The time for building trust, identifying strengths, building competence through practice, and developing your team is all before the challenging time hits. During the challenge, you will reap the dividends of these shrewd investments. The extent to which you can leverage these investments will determine your effectiveness at preparing the team and building the foundation of a winning team.

Adversity can change people for the better

After the challenge, there is time to reflect, evaluate, learn, and plan. There is also time to make changes that emerge as necessary. The most significant challenges in my career as a leader are the most satisfying professional memories I have.

Adversity brings good people closer together. Relationships created during such difficult times and under such tough conditions often last a long time, even a lifetime.

The events during these tough times become fodder in followers’ memories of those days when they were, ironically, impacted favorably — when times that tried men’s (and women’s) souls made them who they are today, and in a good way.

At such times, other people’s actions can change a person for the better. And they become part of the legends and folklore that perpetuate your high-energy culture.

David Casullo is president at Bates Communications, a national consulting firm specializing in leadership communication skills and strategy. His passion is developing leaders who have the courage and capability to change the world. His most recent book, “Leading the High-Energy Culture,” has just been published by McGraw-Hill. Contact him at dcasullo@bates-communications.com .

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