Picture yourself taking some friends for a ride on your sailboat. It’s a beautiful, sunny, 75-degree day. There’s a 7-mile-per-hour breeze, just right for gentle waves and a nice, even-keel ride on the lake. Some of your guests know sailing enough to help you as crew members. You return to the dock that evening, and everyone agrees it was a lovely sail.
The next day, you bring the same friends back for another trip on the lake. But this time, when you’re a long way out, a storm front comes through. The temperature drops to 45 degrees and the wind kicks up to 50 miles per hour. Waves crash into the cockpit so relentlessly that your crew members can barely bail fast enough to keep you from sinking.
You’re actually scared for your life, and you feel responsible for your guests, who are cold from the air and from fright. The mast even starts to split; you can hear the deadly shattering sound as you maintain your death grip on the rudder, desperately fighting to make it to shore.
But make it to shore you do. As the front begins to pass and the wind starts letting up, you finally return to dock safely.
Good Times vs. Growing Pains
True, the first day was probably more fun than the 2nd. But let me ask you 2 (pretty easy) questions:
- Which day did you and your guests enjoy the most?
- Which day did you and your guests grow the most?
Although the first day was full of contentment, here’s what you didn’t get out of it:
- Improved sailing skill
- Powerful learning about your crew’s capabilities
- Clearer understanding of the quality of your craft
Day 2—while full of adversity—helped you grow in each of these areas.
Your Company Is Your Sailboat
People in organizations seek security, calm, predictability, and gradual change. But the truth is, your company will get fat and docile when such “ideal” conditions prevail over time.
However unpleasant the experience, your team stays sharp when confronted with threats from competitors, market shifts, personnel troubles, you name it. But when such challenges are eliminated – when the sailing gets smooth – that sharpness begins to dull.
This truth is even reflected in our physical health: Muscles grow from being stressed, yet atrophy when rested. And we gain flexibility from being stretched, not from staying still.
It’s an interesting life conundrum: we seek contentment, but we grow from overcoming adversity.
Leading through Adversity
As a leader, it’s essential to remain positive in times of adversity. Remind your team members of their strength and capability, and challenge them to grow from these difficult times.
During periods of relative calm, celebrate the good times. But remind your team to stay in shape for the next storm. And remind them that any challenges on the horizon are healthy hiccups – waves that will help your organization improve.
Pursuing Personal Growth through Adversity
If you don’t work for someone who provides powerful leadership in difficult times, then lead yourself on this 3-part adversity challenge:
- When things in your life are calm – when you’re feeling great and content – make a voice recording describing how good it feels. Listen to this recording every few months. These reminders of the nice times will help prepare you to see above the waves when the storm hits.
- During the rough times, read your vision often. It keeps you focused on the end game.
- Finally, read biographies. Note the incredible negatives faced by people that you think of as successful. Many of them actually have incredible examples of adversity in their lives, but that adversity didn’t break them down – it became a springboard for opportunity.
Here’s to a future of smooth and rocky sailing.
This post reminds me of the children’s book Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman. It’s a favorite at our house with good life lessons.
Thanks, Tiffani. I love your creative perspective.