I’ve had the opportunity to work with different teams and organizations on leadership development this spring and summer, and one question seems to come up with every group. How do you handle adversity?

Handling adversity is something we talk about as coaches and leaders constantly. We know how important it is, and we know that every team is going to face challenges. And every situation is different, so there is no specific blueprint. But to handle it, you have to do more than talking about it and reacting to what happens to you. You have to have an action plan.

I’m going to share my action plan for handling adversity that I’ve developed over the years.

  1. Evaluate Honestly

The most important thing you can do is to start with the facts. A great friend and leader I know, Phil O’Brien of York Consulting, always says “See reality for what it is, and act accordingly.” It sounds so simple and makes perfect sense, but it’s harder to accomplish than you think. When adversity hits, it’s almost always an emotional situation. There will be a lot of noise – most of it negative – and that can easily affect the way you think. You have to make a clear and intentional effort to deal with the facts.

Colin Powell used to say, “Tell me what you know, tell me what you don’t know, then you can tell me what you think.” Do not let opinions come into play until you are clear on the facts. Sometimes a conversation about just the facts will make your approach a little clearer.

Say a few of your kids get caught out after curfew the night before a game. You are getting ready for a big game, and now you’ve got to deal with a team issue. Maybe one of your assistants comes in and says “these guys clearly don’t care about their teammates and winning isn’t important to them. They need to be suspended.” Well, while all that might be true, none of those are facts. That is emotion, and it doesn’t necessarily solve the problem. The facts are that 3 of our players came in 30 minutes after curfew. The facts are where they were, and why they were late. The facts need to be compared to other curfew issues you have had in the past, and how they have been handled. You might be really angry because it’s the night before a big game, but that emotion isn’t helpful. Start with the facts.

It’s also important to seek out people who will tell you the truth – both inside and outside your organization. Hopefully you encourage your assistants on staff to speak honestly and openly. Talk to your players, and encourage them to do the same. Speak to other coaches or administrators and get their thoughts on the issue because the lens is a little different from the outside looking in. Have conversations with people who will tell you the truth. That will help you deal in reality.

One thing to keep in mind is that the truth doesn’t always feel good. You’ve got to get over that. If you start talking about things in a way to make you feel better, your decisions will be clouded by emotions. Somebody screwed up and it’s going to have a negative impact on your program. It shouldn’t feel good. That’s okay. Making the right decision on how to move forward will.

When you start with a clear set of facts, it allows you to answer the most important question: What needs to be done? That is where you are trying to get to when adversity hits. What is the best thing to do to get past this as a program and get better? The only way to answer those questions properly when adversity hits is to start with the facts.

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