How Great Leaders Respond to Adversity

Hand stopping domino effect of wooden blocks

“Every one of us has the ability to be a servant leader.”

In season 25, episode 9, we are joined by Damon West.  He is the author of The Coffee Bean and The Change Agent. You can learn more about him.


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Every person whether you want it or not has faced adversity. The current pandemic is a great example of adversity that no one asked for or expected. Damon West, the author of The Coffee Bean shared a phenomenal example of the three basic responses to adversity.

Adversity is a lot like a pot of boiling water. If you put a carrot in a pot of boiling water, it turns soft. You don’t want to be the carrot when adversity happens. If you place an egg in the boiling water, it turns hard. You don’t want to be the egg when adversity happens. If you put coffee beans in boiling water, you have to change the name of it to coffee. What you want to be is a coffee bean when adversity happens because you will be positive and attract the right things into your life.

The question you want to answer today is what are you going to choose to be in the face of adversity:

  • A carrot
  • An egg 
  • A coffee bean

Quotes to Remember

“Great leaders use vulnerability and authenticity in the way they lead.”

“If you’re going to pray don’t worry, if you’re going to worry don’t pray.”

“God put in front of me what you need me to do today for you and let me recognize it when I see it.”

You control four things in life; what you think, say, feel, and what you do.”

About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company making virtual training easy and effective. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of  Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success and host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

Why Great Leaders are Positive In Adverse Situations

The current business world makes it hard to be optimistic. I don’t know if it’s the amount of negative information we receive, the speed in which judgments are cast, the sheer amount of people doing work they hate, or some combination of the three. 

I’ve struggled to maintain optimism during difficult times especially when a team is underperforming, and I know from coaching professionals, it’s a common challenge for many. 

Take Chris, a director in a medium-size consulting company, for example. He was promoted to lead and turn around an underperforming division. He worked long hours, built strong relationships with his team members, and had shifted the strategy to align with the current environment. With all that work behind him, the second half of the year was only slightly better than the first half. His boss was putting pressure on him to drive better results. Chris was at his breaking point, and he knew his team was starting to take notice.  

Instead of making a rash decision, we addressed his negative self-talk and assumptions that he wasn’t good enough for the job. We channeled his thinking towards what he and his team could control, rather than spiraling down the doubt rabbit-hole.

I shared a recent study from Boston University School of Medicine which linked optimism and prolonged life. Chris was shocked to find out that men and women who demonstrate optimism had, on average, an 11 to 15 percent longer lifespan and 50-70 percent greater odds of reaching the age of 85, compared to the least optimistic people. 

As he was starting to turn the corner about his choice to remain optimistic, I shared one of my favorite quotes from Jon Gordon the author of The Power of Positive Leadership

“Being positive won’t guarantee you’ll succeed. But being negative will guarantee you won’t.”

He made up his mind and chose optimism. Here are some of the strategies Chris and I have implemented to help you remain optimistic as well:  

Use the Rule of 3 Positives

Choosing to be optimistic requires a daily discipline of looking for positives each and every day. For example, yesterday was a challenging day for me. Not only did I receive some bad news on the home front, but we lost a deal, and another got delayed. Needless to say, I left work a little beat down. But instead of allowing the negative energy to take hold, I used the Rule of 3 Positives.

The rule is simple. Each day, write down three positive things you did or experienced. Here is my actual list of Rule of 3 Positives from yesterday:

  1. I chose to come home early to support my family instead of going to a work event I wanted to go to
  2. I shared an idea with my barber to help grow her struggling business
  3. I helped a coaching client work through a difficult problem with a team member

These were all choices I made in my day that were positive. While they aren’t massive accomplishments, they were small and positive. By celebrating and reminding myself of them, I was able to reject the negativity of the day and focus on the positive. Chris has adopted the Rule of 3 Positives as well and makes a practice during his commute home to list three things he chose to do that were positive. The trick Chris and I have experienced is, if you can’t write down three things you did that were positive, you have work to do the next day!

Promote and encourage what creates positive energy with your team  

While work can and absolutely should be a place that helps create positive energy for people, it is easy to lose sight during difficult times. Find ways to promote other areas of life that typically create positive energy like healthy eating, physical fitness, faith, and building quality personal relationships. 

Chris has rededicated himself to his health journey by eating better and going to the gym on a regular basis. His confidence has skyrocketed and the working out has helped him alleviate the stress and pressure of the job.

Remove people that cause negativity

Regardless of how well a team member performs, an individual’s value must also be measured by the positivity they bring to the team. There’s a famous saying, “Don’t let one bad apple spoil the bunch.” Each person plays a part in the ongoing development of a team’s culture. One drop of negativity will spread like wildfire.

Chris ended up finding a different job in the company for a member of his team that was constantly talking about the seeming lack of results the team was experiencing. After their removal, the team started focusing on the small wins they were making, which catapulted them to more wins.

Fast forward a year, and Chris and his team are thriving. Being relentlessly positive in the face of challenges is a true competitive advantage. Stay positive and believe good things will happen.

What lessons did I miss?

What are some other ways you remain positive for yourself or your team?

Get the #1 Best New Management Book to Read by Book Authority: Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success is published by McGraw-Hill. Learn the stories, principles, and tools to help elevate the way you lead others.

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company that exists to turn managers into leaders and create healthier places to work. He is currently booking events and speaking engagements for 2020. John was named one of LinkedIn’s 2017 Top Voices in Management & Workplace and was awarded the 2017 Readership Award by Training Industry.com. John is also the host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.  

How Great Leaders Use Gratitude To Be More Effective

Do you remember the last time you received a handwritten thank-you note? Chances are it’s been a while.

Frank Blake, the former CEO of Home Depot, used to set aside a couple of hours every Sunday to write handwritten thank-you notes to stand out employees. He estimated he wrote more than 25,000 notes to everyone from managers to hourly employees. 

Blake’s efforts made a positive impact on his people and the Home Depot business and studies show taking up the same habit can do the same for you. 

study by Glassdoor found that 80% of employees would be willing to work harder for an appreciative boss, and 70% said they’d feel better about themselves and their efforts if their boss thanked them more regularly.

The benefits don’t stop at the person being thanked. A multitude of studies shows people who express gratitude on a regular basis have better overall wellbeing and healthier hearts. 

In other words;

Gratitude is the Gateway to Engagement.

Many people and things deserve sincere thanks. It is very easy to overlook these things, particularly if showing gratitude isn’t currently in your repertoire. Like I wrote at the beginning of the Building the Best, “Books aren’t written by one person, and careers aren’t built by one person either.”

Here are three things that cause you adversity but you should give gratitude too instead:

The team members you get the opportunity to lead

I know this might sound obvious, but for most people in a position of leadership, people are the hardest part of their job. I work with leaders every day who worry, complain, and even cry about the people they are responsible for. 

Instead of those thoughts, be thankful. Show appreciation for them. It’s important to note, appreciation is different from recognition. Recognition is about the results someone produces. Tom Peters famously said, “Celebrate what you want to see more of.” Peters is correct, but recognition is only based on a person’s performance (which is important). Appreciation is much bigger; it’s about who someone is versus what they produce. It literally means, “recognizing the value of”. 

There was a study done at the University of Berkley about what motivates productivity. What they found was astonishing. When people felt recognized for the work they did, they were 23% more effective and productive versus when they didn’t. But when people felt valued and cared for, they were 43% more productive and effective versus than people who didn’t. That’s a 20% improvement when people know they’re appreciated.  

Take your gratitude to the next level and go beyond recognition and show real appreciation to your team members. They wake up and choose to come to work every day. They wake up and bring their whole self to work every day. Write them a handwritten thank you note. In that note, tell them how much you appreciate them for who they are.   

The challenges and obstacles you face

Most of the leaders I work with are constantly putting out fires. While you can’t eliminate all challenges and obstacles, you can control how you handle them.  Author Mark Miller on a recent episode of the Entreleadership podcast said it well, “we don’t determine our opportunities, we determine our readiness.”

Be thankful that you are in a position that needs your brain and work ethic. Instead of getting agitated, complaining, or even getting negative about the next challenge that comes your way, pause right after you hear about it — for seven seconds. During those seven seconds say to yourself, “E + R = O” which means Event + Response = Outcome.  

Once you do get good at this 7-second practice, turn your attention to helping someone else develop the skills to be able to solve common problems in the future without your help. 

The bad leaders in your life

Many professionals have had the misfortune of being managed by bad leaders. People that only think about themselves ad what’s in their own best interest. Candidly, it’s sad to think about how many bad leaders still exist in our organizations.

Great leaders use these people in their past to accelerate themselves in the future and you should too. Instead of complaining about them, turn that adversity into gratitude by being thankful that you now know how you don’t want to lead. You know what things you want to avoid and not do as a leader when you get the opportunity.

Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “you cannot do kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” I hope you will take his wise words today and be grateful for the adversity you experience in your journey.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Elevate the Way You Lead: Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success is published by McGraw-Hill. It was named the #1 Best New Management Books to Read by Book Authority. Learn the stories, principles, and tools to help elevate the way you lead others.

About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company that exists to turn managers into leaders and create healthier places to work. He is currently booking events and speaking engagements for 2020. John was named one of LinkedIn’s 2017 Top Voices in Management & Workplace and was awarded the 2017 Readership Award by Training Industry.com. John is also the host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.