I’ve been working with a bunch of teams and organizations over the last 2 months on leadership development. As we get into the discussion, one topic seems to come up more than any other – how do you handle adversity?

It’s something we all have to deal with, as individuals or as a part of a team. There have probably been a million books written on the topic about turning negatives into positives, but one things I’ve realized is, like most leadership topics, it is situational. Context really matters, and what might work in one situation or for one team might not work for another. So there is no strict blueprint.

A few things I’ve discovered about overcoming adversity:

Your Long-Term Culture Matters

The ability to handle tough times does not start when the tough times hit. Belief and confidence in your long-term approach, and what you are doing every day, is very powerful when it comes to difficult challenges.

What is the overall purpose for why you do what you do? There needs to be something that drives you that is bigger than you. If it’s a basketball team, and winning is all that matters, when you lose a few in a row you are going to feel like the world is caving in on you. But if you believe in the way you operate day to day and the impact it will have on the way you live your life long-term, that is something that will continue to motivate you when adversity strikes. Think about your long-term purpose and what you believe in.

Separate From The Results

If the results are what drives you, they day-to-day becomes a lot harder when things aren’t going well. Focus hard on the process, and evaluating what you are doing every day. If you can honestly say you are giving a great effort, and you know you are getting better, you’ll start to feel better about yourself.

Think long-term when it comes to your culture and what you believe in. Think short-term when it comes to the way you have to battle out of it. Focus on getting better today and just add to that tomorrow. You can’t control the situation you are in any more, but you can control your daily approach.

Win Anyway

Your mentality is really important. We use the term “win anyway” as our way of saying “no excuses.” It’s a long-term mentality that we live and breathe in our program. The officials are bad? Win anyway. Two of our starters are hurt? Win anyway. You don’t feel your best at practice today? Win anyway.

Whatever adversity just struck, you have to get over it. You can’t feel sorry for yourself. Don’t make any excuses or talk about the bad luck that has hit you and your team. It can’t help you. Winning anyway is about how you respond. Make it a part of your mentality.

No one really cares about what happened to your or how you got here. Time to get over it.

Trust Your Teammates

Great teammates are essential to any high-achieving organization, but they are most valuable when things aren’g going well. Trust is the most essential element of great organizations. When adversity hits, you need the best out of everyone to turn things around. There isn’t going to be one person who does remarkable things to pull everyone out of it.

I’ve found that natural tendency is that everyone wants to do more. People are driven because they are upset with what has happened, so there is renewed intensity and commitment to make a change. This leads to a lot of focus on yourself and a narrow scope. Don’t forget about your teammates. Renewed drive is a good thing, but use the strength of your team to make impactful change.


It’s simple to say “stay positive.” Yeah, but things stink right now, so it’s hard to stay positive. But it’s important to set the right mindset. Surround yourself with as much positivity as you can. Speak only positive things about your team or your program. Encourage everyone else to do the same. Celebrate the small daily successes you have with a high level of energy. Compliment your teammates on simple moments of progress.

Get any from the negative talk that naturally comes with the adversity that hit. It doesn’t do you any good. Intentionally put yourself in only positive situations to create the mindset you need.

Find Solitude

I’ve found that when things aren’t going well, I enjoy spending some time alone. It’s great to keep a positive attitude, not to make any excuses and to count on your teammates, but adversity is also hard to deal with. It’s not as simple as waking up and saying “I’ve got this” today and going to work. The fight you need takes time to process and can make you feel bad.

Find 15-30 minutes each day to get away from everyone, and just organize your thoughts. Get comfortable with how you are feeling and how you want to go about making changes. I don’t think you want to try and be tough alone, but I need to be alone at times to figure out how to be tough. Take a break and spend some time alone and get your mind ready for the fight.

See Reality

Phil O’Brien, the Chairman of the York Consulting Group, always says “See reality for what it is, and act accordingly.” This is a much more intentional process than it sounds.

You cannot overcome adversity if you are not realistic about the situation you are in, and why you are in it. We all have difficulty being brutally honest with ourselves because the truth doesn’t makes us feel good. Ask for some help from someone outside your organization about your situation. Have direct discussions within your team about what happened and where you stand. It will be very hard to overcome adversity if you aren’t dealing in reality.

Learn From It

Ask yourself where you are going to be as an organization when this is all over. Think about what this situation can teach you about your team, and how it can make you better. The toughness and togetherness it takes to overcome adversity are long-term assets for your organization.

The light at the end of the tunnel is that the challenges you face right now are going to make you better. But only if you take an intentional approach toward fighting your way out of it. Figure out how your challenge is going to make you better, and then put a plan in place to get there. The long-term positive can help fuel the way you recover.

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