The skills required to conquer adversity and emerge stronger and more committed than ever are the same ones that make for extraordinary leaders.

Why do certain people naturally inspire confidence, loyalty, and hard work, while others (who may have just as much vision and smarts) stumble? It’s a timeless question, and there’s no simple answer. But it has something to do with the different ways that people deal with adversity.

What allows leaders to not only cope with difficult situations but also learn from them are four essential skills, and these happen to be the same skills that enable a person to find meaning in what could be a debilitating experience:

First is the ability to engage others in shared meaning.

Second is a distinctive and compelling voice.

Third is a sense of integrity (including a robust set of values).

Forth, and by far, the most critical skill of the four is “adaptive capacity.” This is applied creativity; an ability to transcend adversity and stresses and emerge stronger than before.

It’s composed of two primary qualities: the ability to grasp context and hardiness. 1) The ability to understand context implies an ability to weigh several factors, ranging from how very different groups of people will interpret a gesture to being able to put a situation in perspective. 2) Hardiness is just what it sounds like; the perseverance and toughness that enable people to emerge from devastating circumstances without losing hope.

It is the combination of hardiness and ability to grasp context that, above all, allows a person to not only survive an ordeal, but to learn from it, and to emerge stronger, more engaged, and more committed than ever. These attributes allow leaders to grow instead of being destroyed; to find an opportunity where others might see only despair. This is the stuff of real leadership.


Inspired by: Harvard Business Review - Crucibles of Leadership by Warren Bennis and Robert J. Thomas