Leadership during Adversity

James Lane Allen, the famous nineteenth century novelist once said, “Adversity does not build character, it reveals it.” This is true of leadership as well.

Look at the leaders we admire. Would they have been able to garner so much popularity and admiration by success alone? Whether it’s Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi, it’s these leaders’ response to adversity and challenging times that has revealed their true character to the world.

The Acid Test

We get many opportunities to display our energy and dynamism when the times are upbeat and the cash registers ring. The energy around is contagious and team spirit is high, and it feels great when our teams are fully engaged and productive. However the real acid test is when the times are not so great, the people aren’t that talented, customers are unhappy, or business isn’t just picking up. When things don’t work out according to plan, these challenges and changes could eventually snowball into disastrous setbacks. This is really when leaders get an opportunity to set an example.

5 Cs of Winning Leaders

Great leaders exhibit the following 5Cs of behaviour when faced with adversity:

  • Charge: Ability to positively mobilize their teams and “pulling” them to perform rather than “pushing” them
  • Courage: Ability to take the bull by the horns and do the right thing no matter what the repercussion
  • Change: Ability to change, develop, and grow by learning from the challenge
  • Contemplate: Ability to think and deal with the situation calmly
  • Clean: Ability to withstand negativity and stay positive

Here’s a great article that explores adversity in detail.

As leaders when we buckle under pressure, our employees can easily spot it a mile long. Whether we let the situation go downhill, or bolster our team’s spirits, or set an example by doing the right thing in the right way, our teams get to witness our true leadership spirit.

An adversity could be a life-changing experience on the personal front, or calamitous experiences on the professional front. The way in which we deal with what life throws at us without breaking down, is what makes us into shining leaders.

(Posted on LinkedIn on Oct 9, 2014: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/article/20141009124935-11623865-leadership-during-adversity)


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