Challenges. Adversity. Frustration. Fear. We all face them in our work - maybe all too frequently. Challenges take many forms; difficult customers or clients, managing ineffective employees, dips in sales, too much work with seemingly too little time in the day to get it all done, and the list can go on. Every leader faces challenges.
Great leaders have learned to turn challenge and adversity into opportunity.
Many people in positions of leadership fade away or "melt" under pressure. I call these "snowflake leaders." When a challenge comes their way, they simply do not rise to the occasion. They get caught in the challenge and fail to see the way out.
What distinguishes a leader that can rise to the occasion from a snowflake leader is perspective and vision.
According to Kouzes and Posner, authors of Turning Adversity Into Opportunity, "Challenge is the defining context for leadership" (pg. 2). The authors note that what sets great leaders apart from the pack is their ability to accept and navigate challenge. What makes a great leader is not that they face challenges, but how they face the challenges.
Leading through adversity requires understanding the larger context of the challenge. Often, when facing challenge, it is easy to get trapped in specific situations and details as they arise, zeroing in on each little challenge. Zeroing in limits the ability to see the whole. One way of thinking about this is using the terms symptoms and disease. When addressing and attempting to understand challenges, we often get caught in the trap of naming the symptoms and not the actual disease. By zeroing in on the particulars (symptoms), it can derail the effort to achieve the larger vision.
A leader that effectively manages challenges can see the big picture surrounding the adverse situation. Great leaders identify the overarching challenge (disease) versus getting caught in the endless trap of the "symptoms".
To name the overarching challenge, leaders find the thread or theme that runs through the symptoms. They get clear on what the need is by seeking information and input, then asking: What ties all the identified symptoms together? What seems to be a common thread? What is at the root of these symptoms?
By identifying the root cause, the leader addresses the source of the challenge. Once the source is named, adversity and challenge become opportunity to create forward movement toward a new vision. The mark of truly great leaders.
Reference: Kouzes, J. & Posner, B. (2014). Turning adversity into opportunity. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.