Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Adversity and Virtues

Executive Summary:
Times of adversity put our values and virtues to the test.  Difficult times are an opportunity to reinforce and to discover your own, your team’s, or your business’ virtues.  Take advantage of the opportunity to become stronger.

The Rest of the Story:
A Vietnamese proverb, as I have it translated, reads, “As fire is the test of gold, adversity is the test of virtues.”  As I understand it, the proverb communicates that during difficult times we are challenged to keep hold of our values and not to compromise them.  It also implies that our virtues will shine and become most apparent in times of adversity.

Are the current economic conditions challenging your business, your team, or you personally?  Are your virtues shining through?  Take some time this week and reflect on it.  It could be an opportunity to either re-enforce your values, or for you to discover the true nature of your virtues and make the most of them.

Our economic experts seem to be unable to agree that we are, or are not, climbing out of the 2008 economic downturn.  Personally, I believe that the words, “turn around” and “recover” are folly to use in the first place.  One cannot recover an economy that didn’t really exist, that was just an illusion of poor risk speculation.  Of course, I’m no expert, and I’m off topic.

What I mean to do is direct our attention to the fact that the current economy is indeed creating adversity for many of us.  Some U.S. businesses are beginning to hire personnel again.  Recruiters that I talk to are holding their breath for the “exodus” which occurs when people who are overworked and under-rewarded by businesses running too lean for too long, begin to jump ship as opportunities become available.

Your business may be running a little too lean.  Your team may be stressed.  You yourself may be ready to jump at a new opportunity or you may be a victim of lean times and looking for employment. 

I was talking with a friend a couple of weeks ago.   He is becoming very discouraged by the lack of interest his job search is generating.  He is an individual of great virtue in my opinion, and I would jump at an opportunity to have him on my team again if I ever have the opportunity to do so.  However, his difficulty is causing him to have doubts.

I visited with another friend this week that just accepted another opportunity with a non-profit organization.  He did so because the large corporation he worked within could not provide him with the experience and growth opportunities he needs to move up, even inside of it’s own organization.  He expects that he can get the experience with his new employer and either grow beyond his expectations, or return to the large business with the experience he needs to achieve the responsibility that matches his ambition.

Another friend recently accepted a role at another business that, in my observation, is a match for the type of responsibility he claimed he never wanted.  He took it, in his own explanation, because he just didn’t feel right working for his former employer any more.

In the first example, a friend is battling a personal challenge to keep perspective of his own virtues.  When others don’t appear to recognize them or don’t take the time to inquire about them, it becomes a challenge to believe in them oneself.

To my friend in this case I did my best to identify and show him what I perceived his virtues to be and encouraged him to have faith in himself.  The phenomenon of the job market should not be considered a good indicator of one’s virtues.  Then we talked about how he might adjust his search tactics.

I was forced, after helping my friend to reflect on his own virtues, to reflect on my own.  It was an uncomfortable and humbling exercise.  I think we all, regardless of our outward display of confidence, have insecurities.  It can be a valuable exercise to recognize those, and then go a step further and recognize our own strengths and what makes us valuable to our family, friends, and employers.

I encourage anyone, whether we are experiencing a crisis of adversity or not, to spend some time reflecting.  There are a couple of reasons that I suggest it. 

First, it can give us confidence, or at least some positive focus to work with.  It helps us get out of bed in the morning, it changes our demeanor, which changes how others respond to us, and it gives us some confidence to persevere in spite of adversity.

Second, recognizing our virtues can give us the tools we need to conquer our adversity and shine in spite of the difficulty.  If we recognize what your virtues are, then we can use them to guide our actions and decisions, to do the right thing, and break through.

For example, if we have to explain a difficult decision or condition to our team and we simply don’t want to face our team about it, we can reflect on our virtue of honesty.  If we are honest, and know that others recognize our honesty, we know that we must be honest and face the team with the news.  In this case, the value we place on honesty gives us the courage to do the right thing.

If you are looking for that opportunity, focusing on your virtues when talking with prospective employers can make the difference between getting their attention and losing it.  If you don’t sound like you believe in yourself, they surely won’t believe in you.  However, if you keep your honesty, work ethic, capacity to learn, and your ability to work with others in mind while talking with a prospective employer, your focus and your confidence will come through.

Our virtues are our strengths.  We must recognize them to utilize them to see it through and persevere in difficult times.  We must also do our best not to compromise our virtues when difficult times test us.

In the examples of my friends above, one of them left his employer because growth opportunity stagnated.  Here is a business that might reflect on this and either accept the reality of it, or decide if growth opportunity at certain levels is a virtue it should develop.

My third friend left his employer because he lost sight of its virtues.  This is truly disappointing.  Maybe, if he had reflected on it objectively he might of rediscovered some of them.  Maybe the business compromised its values too much in recent months and lost some virtue as he suggested.  It’s possible.  I know this particular business has been significantly impacted by economic conditions.

Take the time to reflect on your own team and your own business.  Don’t let yours become the one people want to leave because you have compromised too much and lost your virtue.

The third example leads to one final thought.  I mentioned that my friend took a role that seemed to me to be the very thing he said he never wanted.  It will be a test of his virtues.  I know him well enough that if he stays true to his virtues, he will succeed very well.  If he fails in his confidence, he’ll be in trouble.  I think it’s just the wake-up and rise-up challenge he needs and I’m excited for him.

Regardless, of your situation, your team’s challenge, or your particular flavor of adversity, take some time this week and reflect.  Write down your challenges and concerns.  Then, write down your strengths and virtues.  Take some time to plan how you can use them to overcome your challenges.  I’ve been doing it and I believe that you will be as surprised as I how much you have to work with to conquer your own adversity.

Times are challenging for many of us, for any number of reasons.  Don’t let the challenge drive you into sacrificing your values and compromising your virtues.  Instead, reflect on and leverage your virtues to overcome those challenges.  In the end, you will be better, your team will be stronger, and your business will be the one everyone wants to work within.

Stay wise, friends.

P.S. Coincidentally, the Vietnamese proverb is very similar to the better known quote by the Roman philosopher, Seneca:  “Fire is the test of gold; adversity of strong men.” (5 BC – 65 AD)

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