Leading Through Personal Adversity

by | Aug 28, 2015

The longer I live, the more obvious it becomes that it’s impossible to separate our personal life from our work life. Especially when we’re dealing with personal adversity. We can bottle it up and try to hide it, but it is still there. We still bring it with us.

So how do you deal with personal adversity in your work? Do you wear a mask? Do you assault every coworker with your trials and tribulations? Is it all about you? How does your team see you lead when you are dealing with difficult personal circumstances?

These are tough questions for me because I went through a little rough patch with my health. And I was not a good patient! I questioned myself about how I handled my illness with my family and with my team. Did I lead well through my personal adversity?

As I recovered, I read an interesting quote from Florida State’s football coach, Jimbo Fisher, talking about the difficult personal challenges that Jameis Winston, his Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback,  had gone through. Fisher said:

“That’s a true mark of a man. When you have your own issues, but you have a team to lead like a family, and you never let those [personal challenges] get in the way of the rest of our players reaching their goal as a team.”

This stopped me in my tracks. How had I measured up against that statement?

Obviously, some of our personal adversity is significant enough that it will absolutely impact our ability to lead. The question is, how do we handle it with our team? Here are two simple, but difficult suggestions:

  • Be transparent with your team. Share with them, as appropriate, your situation.
  • If you can, invite them to pray for you and your situation.

I have a close friend who had a major issue with his son. Many leaders would have worked hard to hide it at work so as not to appear weak; not to look like a less than perfect parent. He did the opposite. With a close group, he shared enough of his personal situation so that he could invite them to pray for his son and for he and his wife. Frankly, it was risky. The result blew him away. Deep and ongoing prayers from his coworkers encouraged him greatly. And as a leader, he showed his willingness to be human, to be transparent, which resulted in a deeper respect and loyalty.

Your personal adversity may be short-lived like health issue was. Or, it may be something that you have to battle for weeks or months. Let’s be intentional about how we can use our adversity for good. Use it in a way that honors God and influences others.

I want to share an additional tool with you. My friend, Jim McCormick, spoke at a Workmatters event several years ago on leading through adversity. I think you will be blessed by it.

“Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, he will still be with you to teach you. You will see your teacher with your own eyes.”  Isaiah 30:20

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David Roth

David Roth has been the president and CEO of Workmatters since October, 2003. Workmatters is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded in Northwest Arkansas in 2003 with a mission is to help people pursue God’s purpose for their work. Since then, Workmatters has been used to impact thousands of leaders in Northwest Arkansas and across the U.S. Prior to leading Workmatters, Mr. Roth was vice president, sales and marketing for J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc. Before joining J.B. Hunt in 1999, David was the senior vice president of marketing for Manugistics, a supply chain management software provider in Maryland and vice president of marketing for American Software in Atlanta, Ga. He also has nine years of supply chain management experience with McKesson Corporation in San Francisco, Calif. and Harrison, Ark. David has a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of Arkansas. He resides in Fayetteville, Ark. with his wife, Theresa and has two sons, Dylan and Tyler.