Transforming Adversity from a Deficit to an Asset in Business

Published: Jan 24, 2019

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. Ultimately, however, 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 exertion.

Tackling business 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; that is, 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 personal lives.

This tempering effect does not come free, of course. Just as with physical exercise, after 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, even though 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. Dealing with business adversity with diligence and honesty:

• Builds and 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 of a game like tennis or golf is finally mastering the basics and going forward.

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.  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 you’re doing?”

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.

Share, Don’t Manage.  As you 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 and transform your business deficits into assets. Always remember, good things will come when you embrace positive thinking and recognize that adversity is your impetus to look for creative solutions.