Take it on


Don’t limit your challenges – challenge your limits.

The Olympic athlete Aimee Mullins has shown that everything is possible if you embrace your challenges.She is a world-class runner, and was born with fibular hemimelia, and had her legs amputated at the age of one. Here’s a great video with Aimee from TED.

What is your reaction when adversity, challenges and difficulties suddenly stare you in the face? Do you feel unlucky, or lucky? Do you think, ‘Shit, why does this have to happen to me? Please make it go away!’? Or do you welcome the hardships?

Take it on! This is one of the most powerful tools for any leader. Shit happens, but the question is how you decide to view the reality. The concept of taking it on means embracing adversity. First, because it will not just disappear anyway. Second, because you can learn, grow and find energy from it. It is a source of personal development. The concept of taking it on actually makes you indestructible. Whatever comes your way, you welcome it instead of avoiding it. Much in modern human life is about minimizing negative impact; for example, home insurance, pension funds, safety belts, bicycle helmets and employment contracts. But no matter how hard we try, life hits us anyway. If your mindset is to embrace adversity, adversity loses its power to hurt and frighten you.

After practising to take it on for a while, you might find that you actually go looking for adversity – just for the joy of taking it on – since it can be so rewarding. A friend of mine, Martin Lorentzon, co-founder of Spotify, said that: “For each problem we solve we get better, so give us more problems”.

In their book The Adversity Advantage, Paul Stolz and Erik Weihenmayer outline how you turn adversity to your advantage. Paul is the originator of the Adversity Quotient method for measuring and strengthening human resilience. Erik is a mountain climber and the first blind person to climb Mount Everest, and other peaks around the world. Erik’s lesson is that being blind is an adversity, especially if you are a mountain climber, but using that adversity to take on even more extreme challenges led to a rich and fulfilling life. The obstacle became his advantage and he grew thanks to it.

According to Paul and Erik, the first thing you have to do when facing adversity is to define exactly what it is you are going to take on. Is it the world’s highest mountain, running a marathon, starting a company or fixing a broken coffee machine? Once you have it defined, you know what it is you are taking on. Then leadership begins.

To handle any adversity, Paul and Erik suggest a simple model they call CORE: Control, Ownership, Reach and Endurance.

When you are suddenly surprised by a snow blizzard, for example, you ask yourself: What can I control? To what extent can you influence whatever happens next? Well, you cannot change the weather, but you can maybe control what you do about it, and you can always control your attitude towards it.

Second, you decide whether you are the one who is going to solve the situation. How likely are you to do anything to improve the situation? A non-leader would say: ‘You got us into this bloody snow storm, now you better get us out!’ A leader takes ownership.

Next, how far does the adversity reach? How far will this reach into other areas of your work and/or life? A blizzard could very well be life-threatening, and a divorce could be a tragedy, but you can also choose to see these as difficulties with limited impact.

Finally, how long will the adversity last, or endure? Looking closer, you might find that it can be over soon.

So, define it, take it on and handle it. With some practice, you will be able to lead through any adversity that crosses your path. When I was facing great adversity at one point in my life, my friend Grant Calder asked me: ‘Where’s the gift?’ If you look for it, you might be able to see how your troubles bring with them something positive. Take the bitter with the sweet.

As I learned from Leif Johansson, the former CEO of Volvo, ‘Life is a package deal’. Don’t look at bad or good things in isolation, view the whole, and your adversities will maybe appear in a different light.