Overcoming Adversity: Three Steps Great Leaders Take
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How a leader responds to adversity reveals how effective that leader is. Reactions to setbacks or crises not only test leadership character, but define it.

Some difficulties are devastating, and unfortunately, they are compounded by leadership responses. There’s no real training for adversity on the leadership ladder, except experience. A leader who doesn’t effectively deal with a trial will succumb to it. The rest of the organization won’t be far behind.

Leaders can prevent this. There are specific methods that can defuse setbacks, allow subsequent crises to be more manageable, and make leaders stronger. Leaders can learn to conquer setbacks by using simple, logical steps to make their way through each difficulty.

With the right approach, setbacks can provide advantages that would not have been possible otherwise. Leaders with these skills will weather any storm, regardless of its cause.

From Setback to Success

Ryan Holiday, in his book, The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumphs (Portfolio/Penguin, 2014), claims that leaders can turn the roadblock they face into a path to success. Ironically, the impediment is a gift.

When a leader is hit with a crisis, fear and anger may be triggered. A leader who remains in this state is paralyzed and derailed.

Instead, leaders can view obstacles as self-motivating challenges. They can tap into determination to turn a weakness into a strength. Leaders can view challenges as a test that can be utilized to thrive, not just during a crisis, but in spite of it.

To defeat obstacles leaders can use a three-part weapon system, according to author Holiday.

  1. A mindset or perception on how to view the situation.
  2. A motivated action plan on how to address the specific issues.
  3. An inner drive or will that keeps the mindset and action plan going.

The Right Mindset

A useful perspective of a setback is one that doesn’t focus exclusively on negative emotions, but looks at the facts: data, other perspectives, and root causes. A leader’s healthy viewpoint has logic and a sense of discernment to see things as they really are, not what they may appear to be.

A calm composure not only helps with clarity, it has a positive effect on others. Leaders who redirect distracting thoughts build the strongest mental positions, and can frame the trial accurately. This takes discipline, but it can be learned, especially with the help of a seasoned coach.

The most effective solutions can be found by breaking a crisis down into workable chunks, fixing simpler things, one at a time. This permits even small successes to appear larger than the trial itself, and it allows the leader to re-evaluate the situation after each chunk is dealt with, keeping emotions, tactics, and activities in check.

The BP Deepwater Horizon oil platform disaster of 2011 was a classic example of leadership not following this principle. Responses were stalled, uncoordinated and unaccountable to the public, the government, and the families. A solid foundation of initiative and prudence was clearly missing. Trust in BP plummeted, and the poisoning of the environment far exceeded what was considered up to that point as tragic.

A leader with the right mind set will make things more manageable and less stressful.

The Best Action Plan

With a leadership team in sync on their mental and emotional approach, solutions can be derived and put into place. A careful and deliberate method yields the best results. Taking action for the sake of action often makes things worse. Action is not needed. Prudent action is.

The downturn in Kodak’s analog photography business exemplifies a leadership plan that didn’t fully respond to the threats of disruptive technologies. Legacy products were not phased out in time to make way for new ones. Innovation wasn’t ramped up enough to transition the company. An effective, systematic strategy was not implemented. The company is a fragment of its former self.

A leader who keeps everyone focused on a clear plan of action can prevent anxiety, haste, and employee burnout. Teaching staff to embrace the struggle brings out the best in them.

The Will to Win

As solutions are attempted, ups and downs will occur. Leaders often take their people into new territory. Things don’t always follow the plan. Defeating setbacks requires humility, resilience and flexibility from the leader, according to author Holiday. This is manifested in the inner will.

Being an encourager is part of leadership responsibility. The things most worth doing are difficult, and difficult things take time. The leader prompts everyone to be determined not to give in or give up. This is the will to win.

HP’s purchase into touch screen consumer products offered them a solid opportunity amongst the top competitors. But underdeveloped hardware, software and relationships with carriers caused the walls to close in. After spending billions of dollars, the strategy was abandoned just months after launch, instead of pressing forward with the will to overcome. Their prospects for tablets and smartphones vaporized, as the market for them soared.

Leaders who can stand up to stiff opposition, whether circumstances or people, will forge a strength in their staff, and inspire them to respond boldly. Unity builds a force more powerful than can come from the same number of individuals.

The tragedy is not that things go wrong or crises knock you down. The tragedy is that when a leader doesn’t have the skills or the will to take their organization through the trial, they miss the opportunity to learn from it, and grow because of it.

Feel free to pass this newsletter on to friends and acquaintances should you think they might benefit from it.

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Moty Koppes is a certified master coach providing you with personal development, life coaching, relationship coaching, communication skills, personal power, life balance, career coaching, productivity enhancement, executive coaching and stress reduction in Newport Beach, Orange County, Southern California.