Developing Through Adversity

Every organization will go through adversity. Whether big or small, adversity is one of the absolute key components of innovation and development. But how, exactly, can we successfully navigate ourselves and our organization through adversity? All organizations are different. They have different ideals, brands, cultures, services, philosophies, and the list goes on. However, to navigate tough adversity, there are a few steps that can be applied to any organization and industry to facilitate development through tough challenges.


Step 1: Define Situation

    When Alan Mulally took over as CEO for Ford Motors Co., Ford was looking at possible government bailout. Ford Motors Co. was deep in the red with almost $13 billion in liabilities. When Mulally brought his team together to discover why the situation was so dire, his team members refused to report any failure. This is the first lesson in turning an organization around, if no one admits there is an issue, nothing can be fixed.

    Fortunately, after weeks of consistent effort in pinpointing issues within the organization, one of his members acknowledged that his division was facing major challenges that could hurt Ford Motors further. Mulally had finally found a place to work in and acknowledged the executive in front of all his other members. This established the second lesson in developing an organization through adversity: Open communication without blame will target the problems.


Step 2: Assemble the Core

    Once you have established that the organization requires a turn around, leaders must find a delicate balance of key people to move the cause forward. This is perhaps the most difficult step. The correct group of people must be influential enough within the organization to make a difference. They must also willingly change organizational behaviors. The core group must include a balance between change agents and established executives.

    As a leader, your objective is to merge this group of individuals into a team. This is your core. It will be entirely up to your leadership style how to best create the team culture, however, what you create here, will eventually spread out through your organization, so beware.


Step 3: Sense of Urgency

Why would your team want to take action? Why should your team take action now? This is going to be very specific to your firm and your situation, however the idea is the same: create a sense of urgency! Underperforming teams always have similarities, one of them is procrastination. A sense of urgency will create a must-do attitude. This is where leadership will shine.

Under pressure, we often reveal our true selves and values. Leadership is never more important than when the balance between an ethical or unethical decision hangs on the edge. Leaders’ responsibility in creating a sense of urgency is followed by bringing out the best in the team. This is the true measure of leadership. Can you advance your organization without compromising your and your team’s integrity?

Bringing out the best in people under a sense of urgency doesn’t have to be complicated, but it requires your best.

Step 4: Master the Vision

Create, share, and empower others towards a strong vision. You have acknowledged a situation within your organization, you have assembled a strong core, and you have created a positive sense of urgency, your organization is now ready to turn around and push through its current circumstances. However, how will you know if you’re being successful?

Establishing a strong and tangible vision for the future of your organization will give you direction. The vision is the most vital step in moving forward. The vision must be so powerful, that it must move your team to lead or follow towards it. Once you’ve created your vision, give everyone in your organization the power to share it constantly.


Step 5: Set Goals, Schedule Victories

    To achieve your vision, you must break it down into small achievable goals. Add a realistic deadline and begin accomplishing them. I always suggest creating goals that are action based instead of results based. This gives you power and control over achieving it instead of others. For example, if you want to grow sales, make the goal to contact x many people, instead of getting z many sales.

Small goals achieved by a deadline will give your vision credibility and start one of the most important factors of successful organizations: Momentum. Momentum gives strength and power to you, your core, and your organization. Momentum is the X factor in moving from small victories to medium victories to eventual major victories. This is how a culture of winning is established.

Step 6: Analyze and Implement

    As time progresses through your turnaround efforts, there will be changes in the way things are done. These changes can be organic, organized or established. Keep track of the changes you see. The more information you can keep track of, the better reference it will become. Lessons learned within organizations are a major factor in development.

    Once you consistently have a core team successfully moving the organization towards a vision, results can begin to be analyzed. What has worked the best? What hasn’t given results expected? With these answers you can begin to reshape step 5 for necessary changes and begin implementing processes that have proven successful.



    By 2010, Alan Mulally, former Ford Motor Co. CEO, had pushed profits to the highest they had been in a decade ($6.6 billion). When Mulally left Ford Motors Co. in July of 2014 he had created such a culture of winning, FY14 Q2 marked its 20th consecutive profitable quarter ($1.3 billion). This major turnaround was all accomplished without federal bailout money.

    As leaders, adversity gives us the opportunity to grow leaner and stronger organizations towards innovation. Where you finish after the struggle is in large part based on your vision and your ability to share it with your core. Breaking down your vision into manageable action-based goals will create momentum and a culture of winning. Remember, your integrity will always be the most valuable asset you bring as a leader and many times a key deciding factor in the future of the world.

Diego M. Silva Aceituno, Managing Partner





Leave a Reply