Handling Adversity

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We’ve all heard the old adage “Life is 10% of what happens to you, and 90% of how you react!” That is especially true for leaders in times of challenge.  When things don’t go well and we experience lost clients/customers, budget overruns, turnover, bad PR, negative customer or employee feedback, slow sales or other adversity, how we react can make all the difference.  Leaders not only need mental strength to personally handle a challenge, they also need it to serve as a role model. Their reactions and behaviors will be noticed by others.  Thus, a leader’s reaction to adversity can have a significant cascading affect – positive or negative – which is why being skilled in this area of leadership is so important.


Handling adversity effectively starts with a candid, self-awareness of how you immediately react in challenging situations (e.g., when you or the company get criticized, fail, fall short of expectations, experience resistance to ideas, have conflict with others, etc.). Do you get emotional? Do you take things personally or internalize them? Are you defensive?  Second, you must understand how you are impacting others. To get additional data and gain perspective, ask for feedback from peers or team members on their perception of how you handle adverse situations. What do you project? What do they see or hear from you?  Finally, it helps to consider your mindset or the “way you think” about adversity.  Do you cringe at the thought of it? Do you avoid dealing with it or try to have others take care of it, or do you feel compelled to step up to own it?  

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Those leaders with innate managerial talent “lean in” to adversity and find ways to overcome it.  They take challenges or obstacles head-on, take action to remove barriers, and promote forward movement. They recognize these situations sometimes require compromise, creative solutions, and working with others, not against them.  In addition, true leaders recognize the need to take charge of a significant factor that is within their control – their own reaction.  That control comes from a strong, positive mindset (i.e., understanding that adversity is normal and is quite often a growth opportunity) and a desire to minimize the potential negative impact on their team or others.


We all face adversity in our careers and our lives. Our success and the success of our team depends on how we address it to overcome it.  The next time you experience adversity, what will you do to “lean in” to it in a positive way?