Friday, June 1, 2007

Does taking a proactive approach to adversity have the potential of changing your perception of the same?

Q (from Ron Hurst, cont.) Recently I was challenged to consider how adversity in the workplace could be leveraged to initiate organizational transformation. Armed with a heightened sense of awareness to adversity I have so far found less of it overall. What is your experience?

A. It makes sense that a heightened awareness of adversity might lead to the discovery of less. Such consciousness shifts my perspective on what is happening to me and to others. I see, whenever circumstances change beyond our hopes or expectations, whether we are really suffering, falling into victim-hood or failing to seize an opportunity.

Change of almost any kind can be perceived as adverse and we need to learn healthy responses. Classically we use fire drills, flight simulators and dry runs of all kinds to build confidence in the face of the new and unexpected. Notice how these proactively present potential adversities but with a safety net that allows us to relax enough to understand how we can be most effective. Then in the workplace and without a safety net except for their coaching, powerful leaders proactively apply stretch-goals to demonstrate how self-defined goals can be too conservative or, if you will, adversity averse. Meanwhile there remains the constant promise that "you may get to keep your job if you do your job."

So it is clear we already use the prospect of adversity as a motivator but it only exercises our fear-based responses to external events and that is the danger lurking in any proposition about proactive adversity. When we get beyond fear to confidence and courage our motivations are our aspirations. Failure to cultivate these keeps an organization in 'survival mode' in which survival is doubtful at best and transformation is impossible.

Presently I can see no other approach to transformation than letting aspirations focus organizational energy. This means relegating the use of adversity to potential and in scenarios only. It means proactivly eliminating fear so that potential or real adversity can be seen as an opportunity to find confidence, act courageously and realize those aspirations.


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