Leading Through Adveristy

May 03, 2022

One of a leader's key roles is leading through adversity. Some have said that you are either heading for a storm, going through a storm or just leaving a storm. The only constant is that storms of adversity happen. What is adversity? The dictionary defines adversity as a state or instance of serious or continued difficulty or misfortune. How does adversity come? It can come from many sources or causes. Sometimes it comes from the errors or mistakes of others, sometimes it may come from our own mistakes. Most often it comes from forces beyond our control. The cause is really irrelevant. Except to learn from mistakes and prepare for the future, there is no benefit to pointing out the cause or assigning blame. Blame others, blame yourself or blame God, none of which will change your situation. No one ever improved their circumstance by assigning blame. When adversity comes, and it will come, the best thing to do is to take courage and get through it.  


Some people say that adversity defines you. I don't believe that. I believe that it reveals who you are. Crushing the grape reveals the juice inside. The pressure of adversity squeezes you and reveals your true character, grit, courage and grace. Knowing this, I think that leaders should prepare themselves for adversity by dealing with how they respond to it before it happens. Preparation is the foundation of courage and confidence. John Maxwell, an expert in all things leadership, says that "Adversity in life is a given…we don't have to see it as a negative. We can triumph over obstacles we encounter each day to ultimately gain great experience from them." I recommend picking up his new book Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn.   


In our tournaments for martial arts, one of the instructors said "There are winners and there are learners. Those that lose a match are not losers, but have learned things about themselves." Reflection is a key to overcoming adversity. Our response to a negative event depends on our thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and our behavior. We want to help you as the leader move through adversity and come out on the other side with a win! 


First let's focus on our thoughts about adversity, during adversity and after the adversity. What do your thoughts reflect about you when faced with opposition or a negative event? Where do they go? What kind of self talk do you have? Decide right now that you will have disciplined thoughts. I think Jim Collins described this as a disciplined culture in his book,  Good to Great. Disciplined people who engage in disciplined thought and who take disciplined action. In order to have disciplined thoughts you need to focus on the facts of your circumstances. Not adding subjectivity to the facts as good or bad, just getting a true picture of the current circumstance. Disciplined thoughts allow you to focus your attention on what is actually happening versus the fear of what might happen. The latter will keep you from moving forward in your business mission. When we have had adversity at our firm, I try to stay focused on the mission of the company and our purpose for existing. Then I look at our goals for the year, quarter or month. Ask myself and our team if we need to adjust those goals for the current reality. It takes discipline to focus on solutions rather than the problems. We do not ignore any truth, no matter how difficult it might be to grasp.  


Grasping truth leads us to the next area to address. What we believe about the current situation and our ability to overcome will affect our emotions and our actions. I am going to quote the Bible here, but I know this blog is for all business leaders, not just Christians. Even so, Galatians 5:6 (NKJV) says  "Faith working through love…" which means that faith produces works, actions. And later, in James 2:17, it says "Faith, by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." What you believe about a circumstance will direct your action or inaction. If you believe that it is hopeless, you will behave like it is hopeless. So how do we change our negative beliefs? First we must identify what the negative beliefs are. What is the underlying belief? The root of the issue must be addressed rather than just the symptoms. Using probing questions can help you get to the root. Asking "why" or "what else" or "what led you to that statement?" might uncover the true belief. Once the negative belief is exposed, we can then focus on strategies to tear down those beliefs and build new ones. Now we have gone from adversity to action! Still, because we are human, we need to get control of our emotions. 


Emotions are not bad. They can be the seasoning in the buffet of life. They intensify your experience. Keeping your emotions under control is what is called emotional intelligence. There are several books on the subject and really beyond our scope here, but it is important to understand they are within our control. Knowing when and at what amount to feel is emotional maturity. Giving in to your emotions will cause you to be on a roller coaster each day. Keeping them under lock down removes the value of life. There is balance to be found. In the context of adversity, the emotion that is most encountered is fear. Fears can be rational or irrational. Fear can create an alternate reality in our imaginations of what might happen. We play out scenarios in our heads that ultimately lead to disaster. Subsequently we are too afraid to take any action. Like exposing our negative beliefs, we need to distinguish between the rational and irrational fear. Rational fears are helpful. They keep us from making dumb decisions. They can be measured or have specific tangible consequences. There is a definite cause and effect relationship. Rational fear is good, logical and safe. Irrational fears stop movement. Has no specific tangible consequence. They keep us bound and tethered to the status quo. Here are a few questions to ask to determine between the rational and irrational fears: 


  1. Am I assuming someone else's thoughts or future behavior?  
  2. Are the consequences real or perceived? 
  3. Are there several steps or events that have to happen, assumptions that I am making? 
  4. Are you unwilling to talk to others about your concerns? 
  5. Can the opposite be true at the same time? 


If any of the above questions can be answered with "yes", then you probably have an irrational fear. To combat irrational fears we need to focus on what we can control, what can be measured, what the next step might be and what our advisors are telling us. What we can control is our actions, our thoughts, our daily routine. When we ignore the irrational fears, then we can look at our mission, create practical strategies and take immediate action.  


What action should you take? Is it bold, sweeping action to combat the adversity? Probably not. Usually, small steps to mitigate current circumstances are all that is needed. Unless the current crisis exposed a gaping hole in your business model, processes or product, then broad sweeping change shouldn’t happen. Some small changes may seem or feel like big changes. Like this past year, in order to continue our firm during the state shutdowns, we had to move to all virtual meetings. Was that a big change? Not really. Meetings are the norm in our business, with clients and staff. All we changed was the method of attending meetings. A small but very impactful change. We were actually able to increase our client contacts, reduce wasted drive time for our clients and have better meetings with slides and other visual aides. In order to identify strategies and actions to take, use the following steps: 


  1. Brainstorm possible actions to address the current issues created by the adversity. Only brainstorm one issue at a time so as not to muddy the waters. 
  2. Choose 2-3 strategies that will have the most impact. This is the 80/20 principle, or the Pareto principle.  
  3. For each strategy, drill down to 2 or 3 activities that you can start right now. Assign them to someone and a date to check back to see how things are going.  
  4. In 8 weeks, repeat the process. This should be done for each issue. Also, if the company has multiple departments and/or levels, it can be done at each. 


Clearing through the chaos of adversity to fix your eyes on what needs to be done is an important part of leadership. Answering the question, "what is important right now!" and addressing those areas will help you get through whatever is happening.  


I hope this helps! Please write a review, tell us what you think! I also have a podcast on Spotify called "Coaching for Profit". Visit our website at www.bkm-cpa.com or give us a call at 844-316-6528. BKM pc Certified Public Accountants, Your Virtual CPA Firm! 

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