How adversity shapes you as a leader

One who gains strength by overcoming obstacles possesses the only strength which can overcome adversity. — Albert Schweitzer

In 1799, Conrad Reed discovered a 17-pound rock while fishing in a creek. Not knowing what it was made of, his family used it as a doorstop for three years. In 1802, his father, John Reed, took it to a jeweler who identified it as a lump of gold worth about $3,600. That lump of gold, which was used as a doorstop in North Carolina, is one of the biggest gold nuggets ever found east of the Rockies. Until its composition was determined, its value was unknown.

Hang around in leadership and sooner, rather than later, you will come to learn about adversity. As in life, it comes with the territory.

Your composition as a leader will be tested and what lies underneath will reveal the type of leader you are. Adversity over time will mold you into the leader you become.

Try focusing on these three questions as you go through times of adversity as a leader. It’s as you think through these responses you can begin to navigate your way through the adversity that comes to all of us.

Is my adversity defeating or refining me?

Leaders are not immune to adversity. We all face it. But we don’t all respond to it the same way. Your response to and attitude toward adversity will strengthen you or defeat you based upon your reaction to it.

If the adversity you face is defeating you — by this I mean, disrupting your rhythm as a leader, your judgment and decision making, the way in which you treat others and your temperament — then you need to take a step back and evaluate your response to it. Recognize your reactions and make adjustments accordingly. Be willing to acknowledge it and ask for help. But don’t let it defeat you.

Is my adversity serving me or hurting me?

For some leaders, adversity is like gas on a fire. For others, it’s a death nail. One thing is for sure, going through times of adversity will test your mettle. Adversity will control you or you will control it.

About a month before Thomas Edison released the phonograph, his lab was destroyed by fire. He lost everything. To add insult to injury, his building was underinsured. By most any account, it was a disaster. How would he recover? After the fire, it’s reported that Edison said, “Thank goodness all of our mistakes were burned up. Now we can start fresh again.” His response shows us that having the right attitude can help overcome adversity.

Is my adversity promoting me or holding me back?

In a perfect world as leaders, we wouldn’t face adversity. But that’s just not our reality. In the end, it’s our response to adversity that will promote us or hold us back. Our promotions will come as we choose the right attitudes, keep our hearts right, and don’t lose sight of the big picture.

Final Thoughts

“Every adversity, every failure, every heartache,” said Napoleon Hill, “carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.’’ And this is the truth I hope you will discover as a leader. In what was once a rock considered only worthy of being a doorstop, turned out to be the largest lump of gold east of the Rockies. Your composition as a leader will be tested. Your adversity is like the refining process. The next time it comes your way, embrace it. Soon your true worth will be seen for what it is.

©2020 Doug Dickerson. Doug Dickerson is an author, speaker, and leadership trainer. Read more at or email him at

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