Adversity from a Deficit
to an Asset in Business
From the staggering international collapse of the financial
and auto industries… to the “store for let” sign in the window of
your neighborhood dry cleaner... it seems business adversity is
everywhere and we are doomed to wander a vast and uncharted desert
of business malaise…
It needn’t be so, as I know from professional experience. In
my long career I have experienced wrenching business failure that
almost destroyed me – personally as well as professionally. But
ultimately, my career travails, instead of holding me back, spurred
me on, until I came to see adversity in business not as a deficit
but as an asset.
Today I am healthy and happily married to the woman of my
dreams; a proud father and grandfather; CEO of a multi-million
dollar company, and a thoughtful philanthropist. I have no doubt
that I’ve achieved everything in my life not despite my
professional adversity, but because of it. What’s my secret?
Like all profoundly powerful secrets, it’s quite simple.
I now know that professional adversity is not a curse, but a gift... and
that when we embrace adversity, we receive a tempering of our business’ viability that can
empower it to achieve unimagined success.
Deciding to embrace adversity in your place of business is a
lot like committing to a routine of physical exercise. What do you
do for exercise? Do you run?
Years ago, when I was regularly doing 10K runs, I always
found the first few minutes before I warmed up to be complete
physical torture: a veritable symphony of aches and pains. These
days I swim. Every day I have to drag myself kicking and screaming
to that pool... The water’s so cold when I first get in that the
prospect of swimming 50 laps is incredibly daunting.
However, whether it’s running, swimming, weight training or
any other form of exercise, once you get past those first ten
minutes or so and warm up, the endorphins begin to surge. It’s the
“runner’s high” release of chemicals in the brain that brings such
bliss, but that can only be earned by enduring the physical
adversity is like tackling exercise. Once you get over the “warm up” period and the endorphins begin to
surge, you’ll take pleasure in tackling your problems. Why? Because
it is so much more pleasurable to be the hammer than the nail! When
you tackle a problem you’re taking control; i.e., you’re the hammer.
When you let adversity fester, you’re the victim... the nail.
What’s more, just as my completing the first 50 laps in the
pool provides me with the confidence to know I can meet that
challenge the next time, each instance of adversity that I tackle
strengthens me that much more in terms of self-confidence that I can
solve any problem that I might encounter.
This strength of will builds up day-by-day, just like your
physical strength through your exercise routine. It truly is a
tempering process: just as a blade remains tempered long after the
fire that scorched it has faded away, we grow stronger through the
tempering effects of adversity in our professional careers – and
This tempering effect does not come free, of course. Just as
with physical exercise, concerning each bout of adversity there is
an absolute necessity to move through and finally beyond
the initial pain in order to achieve your goal.
With exercise, your
goal is health benefits. When it comes to tackling professional
adversity, the goal is to realize the benefits of a profitable,
productive and growing business.
We can further use the analogy between exercise and adversity
for our edification. For instance, every time I give into an excuse
to skip a workout, I avoid that day’s initial aches and pains, but I
grow physically weaker as a result. Accordingly, every time I refuse
to deal with a problem, I momentarily avoid the immediacy of
unpleasantness – but I can never forestall the inevitable
consequences of letting adversity linger.
Take swimming. The longer I procrastinate, the harder it
becomes to eventually get into the pool – and I know I have to do
it, sooner or later. In the same way, the longer I postpone
dealing with an adversity in the workplace, the harder it will be to
eventually confront it. Now let’s be positive. Exercise
builds physical strength and flexibility.
The payoff to
dealing with business adversity with diligence and honesty is that
limbers up the mind and spirit,
Allows us to
experience greater possibilities of our current business model
Gives us the
vision to see new opportunities when they arise.
Physical exercise tempers the body through repetition, and
that repetition additionally instills new skills. One of the
pleasures of any workout routine or practicing a game like tennis or
golf is finally mastering the basics and letting the training take
over so you can focus on the subtleties.
After a half century of swimming, for example, I no longer
need to think about the mechanics of my chosen physical activity. I
move through the water automatically, executing with whatever grace
and ease I can muster a highly complex routine, learned and improved
upon throughout the years, and retained, for instant use, in my
subconscious. It’s called “muscle memory”; a skill never forgotten
and always on call.
You can develop a similar “muscle memory” when it comes to
your ability to tackle adversity in business. Simply practice
“correct technique” often enough – in this case making a choice to
confront your adversity instead of procrastinating – and function
will follow form.
Here are some strategies to help you cultivate positive and
proactive habits for handling professional adversity…
Change Once, Change Right:
“Mulligans” may be tolerable in golf, but not in confronting
business adversity. Nothing is more demoralizing for a business
than to go through false starts in putting in place a new
organizational plan or strategy to deal with a serious problem.
The turmoil created by such fruitless change is devastating to
the organization and its employees – and deeply disturbing and
doubt creating for its customers and clients. Bottom line:
never motivate them to wonder or ask: “Do you know what
Loyalty is a Two Way Street: Kings and Queens may rule by divine right…
dictators by force of might… All other leaders answer to voters,
stockholders and their own employees who can sabotage a company
as well as help lift it to success. Your actions in the face of
business adversity must demonstrate stamina, skillfulness, and
genuine enthusiasm, affection and respect for everyone who
contributes to your business’ viability.
Dialog Not Dictate: Nothing in life is absolute except death and
taxes. Your business is a living, breathing, growing thing, and
so should your strategies for dealing with its adversity. You
didn’t get to where you are alone, so why try to make your most
important business decision on your own? Involving your
professional colleagues, employees, family and friends will
result in more creativity, less dysfunction and a more
successful outcome. This is not to say that everyone will have
a vote in the ultimate outcome. Ultimately, responsibility for
mastering the power of adversity in your business rests with
you. However, you will be aided immeasurably by the cooperation
and goodwill of those impacted by your decisions if they have a
voice in the outcome.
truly connect with others… revealing, extending, and expressing
your innermost self… the obstacles in your path to a successful
outcome will peel away like an onion, revealing choices and
solutions that would never be apparent to you on your own.
Adversity is Intrinsic to the Process:
Just ask King Lear – or the management team at GM – running a
kingdom is never going to be easy or altogether pleasant.
Tension, conflict, fear, bruised feelings – in short, all the
hallmarks of adversity – will be with you every step of the
way. The key is to gain strength from the hardship and change
how we view the challenges we face by reprogramming our mental
and emotional responses to the myriad challenges and pitfalls
built into the succession process.
I wish you success in using these rules, tips and techniques
from my book to transform your business deficits into assets.
Always remember that good things will come when you embrace positive
thinking and recognize that adversity is your impetus to look for
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