Leading through adversity

Sometimes the unexpected happens. Things turn awry and outcomes fail to match projections despite the efforts put in place to ensure that things turn out well. Often in life and business, adversity is inevitable.

A government policy can turn the world of an organization upside down just as the coming of a new technology can take a company from the zenith to the nadir in a matter of days. A twist in the economy can take the wind off the sail of an organization; an accident, a health issue, death or a natural disaster can render the strategy of an organization ineffective. Adversity can manifest in different shades and colours but its essence is to cause a setback that will delay or disrupt the actualization of set goals.

Going through adversity can be devastating for individuals and organizations but adversity is not all gloom as it provides an opportunity to come out stronger and get better.


Dr Cosmas Maduka

At the outset, it seemed Cosmas Maduka was born for adversity and programmed to plod through misfortune all his life. He lost his father at the age of four and had to be uprooted from elementary school at the age of seven to assist his mother in her bean cake hawking business. By the time he was 12, he had been apprenticed to an automobile mechanic. At the age of 15, he was sacked by his master, who was also his uncle, for attending a church service. With the N200 his uncle gave him, he teamed up with his brother to set up a company called Maduka Brothers, specializing in the sales of automobile spare parts. The partnership, however, did not last due to ideological differences he had with his brother.

When he parted ways with his brother, he got N300 as his benefit. With that sum, he set up another business in Nnewi. According to him, “I had my first breakthrough in business when I went to Boulous Enterprises to purchase motorcycle spare parts. There, I saw an innovation called motorcycle crash ban and bought many of them. Thereaf­ter, I removed the address of Boulous on the carton, so that people would not know where I bought them.

Then, I sold all the next day and joined night bus back to La­gos to buy more. I did that four times in a week and my capital rose from N300.00 to over N3000.00.”

But the success did not last as he used the proceeds from the business to veer into importation of spare parts. But unfortunately he got a wrong consignment and lost his capital.

He said, “It was a serious setback and I became indebted to many, even to my landlord, who I owed some rent ar­rears. As a result, my shop was locked and the business crumbled. Notwithstanding, I was willing to start again.”

He had to engage in some menial jobs while his wife also picked up a job to raise money. After raising some money, he went into partnership with a friend called David and they established Cosdave. But the partnership did not work as a result of ideological differences. Following the breakdown of the partnership, he set up Coscharis Motors in 1983. This time, the business thrived and he has been able to sustain the success.

After a series of adversities and setbacks, Dr. Cosmas Maduka today sits atop a $500million conglomerate and is a respected member of the Nigerian business community. He is on the board of a number of companies and his business empire is spread to many cities and towns in Nigeria.


Why effects of adversity linger

While some individuals and organizations are quick to put the effects of an adverse occurrence behind them and forge ahead into finding a solution or seeking alternatives, for others, it takes quite a while to live down same.

In her 1969 work, On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross identifies the five stages of grieving which most people go through before getting over the effects of an adversity.

The first stage is denial. At this stage, the affected person does not want to believe what has happened. He does not want to come to terms with the reality. He lives in denial believing that by so doing, what has been done will be undone.

Next is the stage of anger. The individual is angry at everybody for what has happened. He keeps pointing finger and is unable to hide his fury against those perceived to have been responsible for the occurrence.

After getting out of the anger stage, he gets into the bargaining stage, moaning what could have been, had what he perceives to be the right thing had been done.

Next is the stage of depression. The weight of the occurrence falls heavily on the individual and he begins to imagine what it would take to get out of the situation.

The final stage is that of acceptance. It is at this point that he finally comes to terms with the reality of the irreversibility of the event and the need for him to make the necessary adjustment for him to move ahead.

Some individuals go through every of the stages while some people are able to skip some stages to arrive at the final stage. Some people also spend more time on each of the stages than others. So, the length of time it takes to overcome an adverse occurrence is a function of how quickly the people involved are able to come to terms with the reality.


Turning around adversity

Overcoming adverse events requires taking some steps. Here are some of them.


Face the reality

This is the starting point for overcoming adversity. Until the leader acknowledges the fact for what it is, he will just be leading his people round in circles without tackling the issue. Others may be pardoned for wallowing in denial but not the leader. The counsel of Jack Welch to his management team during his days as General Electric chairman is instructive. He told them to always face reality as it is, not as it was or as they wish it were.

Welch added, “The art of managing and leading comes down to a simple thing. Determining and facing reality about people, situations, products, and then acting decisively and quickly on that reality.”


Identify the real issues

The leader must also identify the cause of the adversity. It is not always that adversities are precipitated by external forces, sometimes they are caused by acts of commission or omission. The essence of identifying the real issues is not to embark on a blame game; it is to prevent a recurrence if it is something within the capacity of the organization to control or to position it to handle such occurrences better in future. Even sometimes when adversity is a result of external factors, strengthening the internal mechanism reduces its effects on the organization. Knowing the kind of bulwark to build against recurrence of adversity will be difficult without an analysis of the situation.


Be optimistic

If there is anything that distinguishes great leaders from others it is their incurable optimism. Great leaders never live in denial, but they also never write off themselves or anyone else. They always believe the best will come to them. They are propelled by the fact that there is no situation their resolve and the cooperation of others cannot change. This quality is more desirable when there is a downturn. During downturns, the morale of most people tends southward. Low morale means depleted energy. The only thing that can energize the people is the leader’s enthusiasm and optimism. Without the people being adequately energized, it will be difficult to build the synergy necessary to revamp the organization.


Right attitude

In his book, Success Principles: How to get from where you are to where you want to be, Jack Canfield, says outcomes are not determined by what has happened but what is done with what has happened. This explains why two different organizations facing similar situations have different results. The reason is that they handle the same situation in different manners and they have different results. This has to do with the kind of attitude displayed by each of them.

Canfield gives a formula, E+R=O, where E is event, R is response and O is outcome. He explains that while E is constant, R is a function of the attitude of the organization, especially its leader, and that determines what the organization gets as well as what becomes of it. In times of adversity leaders should focus on what they can control and their responses to the situation because that, more than any other factor, determines the outcome.

Facing adversity may be challenging but it is not the time to throw overboard the values an organization has been known for. It is not the time to cut corners or seek easy way out of the quandary. It is time to stay true to all an organization knows to be right because there will be life after the storm occasioned by the adversity.


Unite the people around the purpose

The essence of adversity is to delay the actualization of corporate objective or to force a detour from it. Great leaders mobilize their people around the purpose of the organization in difficult times. Once the focus of the organization is allowed to shift during adversity, rebuilding may be difficult. Therefore, the leader has a responsibility to ensure that the people are motivated to stay focused on the purpose of the organization.

Achieving this will require extensive communication. The leader must continually engage his people in communication so that no one will be in doubt about the direction of the organization and why it is doing what it is doing.


Involve others in solution-generation process

While the leadership of an organization has the primary responsibility for proffering solutions, it will be unwise to apportion monopoly of solution to itself. So, it needs to get others along in the process of fashioning a way out of the situation it has found itself.

Apart from the obvious benefit of this, which is the multiplicity of options, there is also the unstated benefit of those involved in the process owning it. They feel honoured that they were involved in the process and work towards ensuring its success.


Turn adversity to advantage

Every act of rebuilding is a chance to improve on the earlier effort. That is one of the advantages of adversity. Going forward after a bout of adversity provides the opportunity to come out with a better performance because of the benefit of experience provided by the adversity. It is for this reason that adversity makes people better and organizations stronger.

Dr Maduka has been able to build Coscharis into a world class business conglomerate as a consequence of the lessons learnt from the failed Maduka Brothers and Cosdave.


Last line

While adversity stalls the weak, it prods the strong.

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