Learn from Adversity

Leaders never use the word failure. They never think in terms of failure. They recognize valuable lessons, learning experiences, and temporary setbacks, but they never think in terms of failure. Inspirational author Orison Swett Marden wrote, “There is no failure for the man who realizes his power, who never knows when he is beaten; there is no failure for the determined endeavor; the unconquerable will. There is no failure for the man who gets up every time he falls, who rebounds like a rubber ball, who persists when everyone else gives up, who pushes on when everyone else turns back”

Thomas J. Watson of IBM was asked by a young executive many years ago, “How can I move ahead more rapidly in my career?” Watson's reply was, “Double your failure rate.” In other words, the more often you fail and learn, the more rapidly you'll succeed.

Some leaders even say things like, “We have to fail faster around here if we want to succeed in our market.” In other words, we have to gain our lessons quicker. Instead of one or two failures a year, experience ten or twenty failures and you'll be more likely to be in a position, knowledgewise, to dominate your market.

Be Solution-Oriented

Leaders can deal with setbacks and crises because they are solution-oriented. If there is a problem, then they are thinking about how to deal with it, not about finding the person to blame.

In my book Crunch Point, I describe some of the important steps that leaders take to respond to a crisis or a setback, no matter how big:

Stay calm. Refuse to worry or become angry. Of course, that's easier said than done, but leaders maintain their calm and their mental clarity because they are able to avoid becoming angry at something that they cannot change.

Be confident in your abilities. You have handled crises in the past, and you will do it again.

Dare to go forward. Don't be paralyzed by the sudden turn of events. Take specific actions immediately to remedy the situation.

Get the facts. Find out exactly what happened before you make a decision.

Take control. Accept 100 percent responsibility. Finding blame or dwelling on the past resolves nothing.

Cut your losses. Walk away from a solution that can't be saved.

Manage the crisis. Take charge, make a plan, and get busy resolving the problem

Communicate constantly. Keep people informed. Uncertainty compounds the crisis.

Identify your constraints. Identify the limiting constraint that slows the resolution of the crisis and deal with it.

Unleash your creativity. Develop as many solutions as possible.

Counterattack. Assess the situation, get the facts, then go on the offensive.

Keep things simple. In a crisis situation, there may be too much going on and too much to do.

Focus on the most important jobs only.

Never compromise your integrity. No matter what crisis or challenge you face, you must resolve it without ever compromising your integrity. Remember, everyone is watching.

Persist until you succeed. No matter how difficult resolving a crisis may become or how long it takes, never give up.

The Turnaround Artists

Much leadership is situational. Many leaders rise to the fore because of a situation. I've seen men and women who've gone on for many years in average positions and then, because of a period of turbulence or adversity, they suddenly have leadership thrust upon them

I've also seen people who have been excellent leaders in one situation and turned out to be poor leaders in another situation. Some people are very good leaders under stable conditions, and others are excellent under turbulent conditions.

Today in America, sometimes a business leader must act as a “turnaround artist.” The turnaround artist is outstanding in situations where a company is in danger of collapsing because of serious problems with finances and changes in the marketplace. These leaders can reorganize and get the company back on track, sometimes in a matter of a few weeks, when all the efforts of existing leadership cannot get the job done.

So leadership is highly situational, but it is adversity that brings out great leaders. It is adversity that proves whether or not a leader is great. So whenever you find yourself facing an adverse situation, think of it as an opportunity for you to demonstrate that you have “the right stuff” — that you have what is necessary to be a leader.

Adversity draws out the true leaders. Epictetus wrote, “Circumstances do not make the man; they only reveal him to himself.” It's in the hard times that true leaders stand out.

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