Adversity produces clarity of purpose in our lives, helping us avoid diversions and provoking within us essential disciplines
Adversity happens! The very core etymological meaning of the word “leadership” refers to a nautical term of “steering a ship in a storm.” And everyone has experienced storms in their leadership.
The current Penn State University President and Board are navigating their academic ship right now in light of impending lawsuits, community polarizations, and NCAA fines. The government leadership within Aurora and Denver, Colorado, are navigating justice, anger, and healing with families in a city and state in grief over another horrific and unforeseen Columbine-like tragedy. Peregrine Financial Group wins the 2011 Iowa Character Award for demonstrating and promoting the character traits of trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship. One year later it was discovered the senior leader within Peregrine was living a lie. The confession by founder and Chairman Russell Wasendorf Sr. that he defrauded clients out of more than $100 million dollars over the last twenty years made all those within Peregrine wonder how they should deal with the adversity that has fallen upon them.
Of course, the adversity doesn’t have to be as newsworthy as the three above. Adversity can come when critical conversations need to happen, difficult decisions concerning people or profit need to be ascertained, or an illness strikes unexpectedly. What is a servant leader to do with the adversity that befalls them?
Recognize that Adversity is often the most Effective Teacher
No one cherishes adversity, but it can provide the servant leader with unbridled clarity and definitive choices. Adversity doesn’t build character as much as it reflects character. Character-building in adversity is dependent upon your response. Nelson Mandela, the revered statesman of South Africa, had many teachers; but his greatest teacher by far was his 27 years in prison.
Secure an Accurate Picture of the Adversity
The tendency among those tested is to exaggerate the adversity and use words that speak of hopelessness. Depression sets in when the recipient feels they have no choices left and they are victimized by the situation. Our choices determine our destiny more than our circumstances. Always ask yourself the question, “What is reality?” It is never the “worst of times and the best of times.” An accurate picture of the adversity allows you to diagnose the situation and provide a precise and positive treatment plan to deal with it.
Become Self Aware of your Emotions during Adversity
A non-anxious presence is the best way to deal with adversity. However, we cannot always respond in that way, so be aware of your feelings while not allowing them to control you. Allow your thinking to monitor your feelings. Don’t be harsh with your feelings, but remind your feelings through self-talk what is really true.
Healing of Adversity Comes through Otherness
The healing of personal pain often comes in the giving of self to others. We have seen it in movements like “Mothers against Drunk Drivers,” or in families supporting a specific cancer or illness because of a lost loved one. Thinking and being active on behalf of others provides hurting individuals a chance to truly heal while not ignoring their own pain.
Adversity happens to everyone. Some will have more, others will have less, but all of us at some point will be victims of it. The servant leader will inspire, equip, and encourage others by their words during times of adversity. But it is by their actions that the inspiration, equipment, and encouragement will take hold for people during and well beyond the adversity.
Dr. Tony Baron is an internationally recognized speaker, writer, and consultant on the subject of transforming organizations and their leadership so they can be profitable, people-oriented, and dynamically committed to improving the communities they serve. He serves as the President of Servant Leadership Institute in San Diego, CA.