Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Book Review: Turning Adversity Into Opportunity (2014) by Kouzes and Posner

Turning Adversity Into Opportunity (2014) by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner

I've read one of their books before, A Leader's Legacy (CLICK the title) and I like their writings especially on leadership. This one is a small book with a big message, filled with wisdom, great short advice, and essential points. If you wonder how to turn adversity into an opportunity or how to face challenges as a leader – read this book. Leadership has always been essential in getting through tough times. Turbulent. Disruptive. Chaotic. Unexpected. Unpredictable. Changing. These words describe circumstances that demand leadership. Today, many organizations and businesses will experience crisis and challenges that either will break or make them stronger. While these moments are difficult, they also provide the opportunity for great leadership. "Challenge is the defining context for leadership," writes Kouzes and Posner. "That's the consistent pattern we've discovered from our research over the past three decades… Challenge, it turns out, is the crucible for greatness."

Exemplary leaders turn adversity into opportunity. They continue, "There are no shortages of these opportunities, and they demand leadership. It's not a choice; it's a requirement. If communities and organizations are not just going to survive but also to prosper, leaders must rise to the occasion." Most of the leaders that they interviewed said that their greatest moments arise out of the most difficult periods of their careers. In this book, both authors reveal how leaders at any level can transform difficult circumstances into opportunities for growth and success. They offer six (6) actionable strategies that we must incorporate into our leadership practices (for each strategy, the authors include questions for reflection), namely:

Strategy #1 Broaden the Context. It's crucial to view what's happening from the perspective of history. After all, leaders in the past have faced challenges and overcome them. So ask yourself how you can help people understand what's happening in the broader environment, and how you can help people understand you are not worse off than others in the past. "Putting things into perspective is vital to transforming adversity into opportunity."

Strategy #2 Defy the Verdict. People need the truth – an honest explanation of the situation. "But defining reality and accepting it as your personal fate are two different things. Just because things are not going the way you predicted doesn't mean that you are doomed to a life of gloom and doom," they note. They point to former Saturday Review Editor Norman Cousins' finding that some cancer patients responded with a fierce determination to overcome the disease. They didn't deny the diagnosis but did refuse to accept the verdict usually associated with it. Those patients lived significantly longer than their oncologists expected.

Strategy #3 Commit to What's Important. If you generate a list of the historical leaders you admire, they probably were individuals of strong principles who were clear about what was important to them and consequential in life. The authors' research found that clarity about personal values has a significant impact on employees' feelings about their work. "People cannot fully commit unless what they are being asked to commit to fits with their own beliefs," they write. So help people to understand why what you're doing matters and why they should feel passionate about it.

Strategy #4 Take Charge of Change. The personal best moments the leaders outlined were exciting and inspiring but also filled with stressors. That requires psychological "hardiness," the ability to bounce back. Three attitudes boost such hardiness: Commitment to being involved in the situation; the desire to control your life and influence the situation; and the willingness to confront the challenge rather than playing it safe.

Strategy #5 Engage Others. We feel healthier in trying times when we gain support from others. Indeed, the authors note that having one supportive stable relationship is an important condition for "transcending" adversity. So consider how to connect with others affected by the challenge, using the situation to fortify your relationships and build partnerships – creating a sense that you are all in this together.

Strategy #6 Show You Care. Human beings need to be appreciated, so no matter how busy you are grappling with the challenge, make sure you are providing sufficient encouragement to others. That requires face-to-face communication. "Being with people in person is even more critical for leaders with long-distance and global teams. Although it may seem counterintuitive, in difficult times it is important to maintain travel budgets (even possibly increase them) rather than cutting back," they warn.

"Let's get excited about the adversities. Yes, that's right – excited. They are not brick walls. They are turning points," they concluded. "Wherever you find yourself in your organization, community, and family, there are opportunities for leadership. Leadership is not a position or place. It is an attitude and a set of practices that are accessible to anyone." Put these strategies into practice and you can – the authors assured us – turn adversity into opportunity. Yes, you can do it!

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