How Do You As A Leader, Overcome Adversity?

Oct 21, 2016 1 Min Read
muddy feet being pushed up by a pair of helpful and supportive muddy hands


When we talk about what makes a great leader, there is one quality that regularly gets overlooked: the capacity for overcoming adversity.

Brian Tracy, renowned leadership author and motivational speaker, poses the following questions for us to consider if we have what it takes to deal with adversity, “What are you made of? What are you really made of? When push comes to shove, when the rubber meets the road, when the chips are down, what lies at the very core of your character?”

Perhaps there’s no showground more intense when it comes to dealing with adversity than the political arena. Leaders are relentlessly scrutinised and any slight error can be the difference between establishing one’s name in the corridors of power and fading away into political obscurity.

A local perpsective

One example of a local political leader that was faced with adversity is Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, who was arrested earlier this year for alleged corruption.

The former banker and current secretary-general of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) Malaysia found himself at the centre of a highly charged political debate between government and opposition supporters and as Malaysia looks forward to electing its 14th parliament in or before August 2018, Lim faced truly testing times that will no doubt leave their mark on future jousts between Malaysia’s political parties.

Having been active in politics for over 30 years, Lim has encountered his fair share of controversy, including being sent to jail in 1998 for 18 months – a major setback which denied him the chance to stand for public office for five years, which saw him lose out in the 2004 general election.

Despite the difficulties he has faced within a country that has cracked down on some senior figures connected to alleged corruption, Lim appears to be able to draw from a well of strength and resilience in his commitment to overcome adversity and continue in his public service.

Going through fire and water

The ability to push on, regardless of what life throws our way, is the one characteristic that can help to ensure success in whatever we desire to achieve, as we become better equipped to deal with the unexpected and meet our challenges head-on.

As Tracy puts it, “One of your main jobs in life is to become an expert in dealing with adversity, to triumph over difficulty, to rise above the challenges of day-to-day life. Keep your thoughts on where you’re going, not on where you’ve been. Keep your eyes on your goals, and keep your chin tilted upward toward the sunshine. Resolve in advance that you will meet and overcome every difficulty, and then, no matter what happens, don’t give up until you do.”

Qualities in overcoming adversity


Faced with adversity, the best leaders remain unfazed by whatever challenges they encounter.
They accept whatever comes their way and, rather than worry and anticipate the worst, they always look for the best ways in which they can move forward. Top leaders recognise there’s no value in trying to change the unchangeable, and so they focus all their energy on making the best of their situation.

Taking responsibility

Regardless of whether difficult situations are brought about by the leader themselves, or are the result of circumstances outside their control, effective leaders take ownership of their situation. They don’t look to assign blame, and they don’t offer up a truckload of excuses. By consciously taking responsibility of their situation, they retain full control of themselves and are thus able to respond, rather than react, to adversity.

Adopting a positive perspective

Even in the most challenging circumstances, there are lessons to be learnt. Leaders of quality don’t dwell on negativity; rather, they consistently look for ways they can learn and develop insights from tough situations. They can even view their predicament as a gift of sorts, one that provides an opportunity to strengthen character, resolve, and patient endurance. Whatever the challenge, great leaders will always find something of value within their hardships.


We often hear the advice that we should focus on improving our weaknesses. But in adverse conditions, focusing on one’s strengths are something effective leaders do to help them through their turbulent times. It might be the easy option for some to crumble under the weight of pressure that’s placed upon them, but hardy leaders will relish the chance to galvanise their strengths and meet their challenge with aplomb.

Clear vision

As is frequently the case, leaders can find themselves in potentially career-wrecking situations. Rather than pore over the ins and outs of how their difficulties come about, leaders with the ability to overcome adversity recognise that it is useless to look backwards unless they intend on heading that way. Instead, they begin to set new goals for themselves and create a clear vision for the future.

Life can and will throw dangerous curveballs our way from time to time. Even when leaders get knocked down, they look to get back on their feet as soon as possible and find ways to continue in their passion of serving others.

Sandy is a freelance writer for Leaderonomics. To connect with Sandy, follow him @RealSClarke on Twitter.

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Sandy is a former Leaderonomics editor and is now a freelance writer based in Malaysia, and previously enjoyed 10 years as a journalist and broadcaster in the UK. As editor of, he has been fortunate to gain valuable insights into what makes us tick, which has deepened his interests in leadership, emotions, mindfulness, and human behaviour.

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