How Change-Agents Transform Adversity Into Growth With A Compassion Mindset
If you are a leader, coach, parent, or any other kind of change-agent who believes you are helping other humans learn and grow, and if you use adversity as a motivator, this post is written for you. Here’s a guide to help you channel and leverage adversity to help people become better human beings instead of breaking them down.
The Positive (And Negative) Potential in Adversity
Adversity builds character, right? That’s what many leaders, coaches, and growth gurus like to say. Do you believe in the transformational potential of adversity? Do you believe that it’s not what happens to you but how you respond that makes all the difference?
As a change-agent, do you utilize adversity in your work? Do you ever allow or create adverse conditions to teach people a lesson?
Adversity can also break down and traumatize people, leaving them feeling defeated and hopeless.
Adversity can be transformative, positively, or negatively.
Three Factors Impacting How a Person Will Respond to Adversity;
- Who they are: What they bring to the situation; past experiences, personality, values, mindset.
- What happens: What they experience; the adverse events and experiences.
- Mindset of the Change Agent: How you as a coach, leader, teacher mentor or guide view yourself, the person you are trying to help, and the adversity they are experiencing.
As a change agent, you have little to no control over what the other person brings to the situation; past experiences, personality, unique perspectives and values. However, the more you understand these things, the better you can anticipate how they will experience what happens to them. When we teach leaders, doctors, teachers and coaches about personality differences, it opens up a whole new world for them. Once they understand how different people experience the world and are motivated, they can better anticipate how that person will respond to what life throws at them. One person might embrace adversity in a “go it alone” mentality, preferring to be independent. Others might be more confident to walk into the storm knowing you’ve got their back. Some might initiate their own performance-improvement plan without any prompting while others are desperately waiting, and eager for guidance.
Ideally, adversity stretches us without breaking us. It tests our abilities in ways that help us recognize gifts we didn’t know we had. It helps us gain perspective. It forces us to lean on others. It invites us to overcome our own limiting beliefs. The hope is what when life gets harder, we get better. But this can’t happen (or rarely ever happens) in a vacuum. Whether or not adversity makes us or breaks us also depends on the interaction between the change agent and the person going through adversity. This is especially true if the change agent has influence over the averse experiences, such as when a leader delegates a difficult new assignment to their employee, or a coach who puts their player in a challenging position.
Change Agent Mindset
The mindset of the change agent has an incredibly powerful influence on whether adversity makes or breaks their “student.” Change agents with a Compassion Mindset help their students thrive through adversity. Change agents without a Compassion Mindset can leave their students feeling defeated and hopeless.
The Compassion Mindset has three switches, each one representing a fundamental attitude and approach for facing adversity.
People going through adversity are Valuable
When their Value switch is on, change-agents maintain the fundamental belief that humans are unconditionally valuable. They affirm the person even when their behaviors fall short. They never resort to personal attacks, and never insult a person’s character or worth as a human being. They show emotional support, even when the going is tough. Empathy is one of their superpowers.
When their Value switch is off, change agents personalize other people’s struggles, attacking their character and quality as a human being. They withhold recognition and affirmation to punish their student. They expect their students to be tough instead of embracing the reality that people are braver and stronger together than alone. They keep an emotional distance as a way to stay safe and maintain power. One of the most damaging excuses that these change-agents make is that the end justifies the means.
People going through adversity are Capable
When their Capability switch is on, change-agents are always looking for pockets of strength to build on. They affirm what’s working and leverage gifts. Where there are gaps, they teach and guide. They never attack people for making mistakes. They never withhold information that could be helpful to the student. Expecting someone to figure it out on their own, even when they are drowning and don’t know what to do, is abusive. Nothing builds capability like celebrating success, even the smallest success.
When their Capability Switch is off, change-agents focus on what’s not working. They harp on mistakes, avoid praising success, and withhold information that could help the student through adversity. Even worse, they intentionally set up situations for people to fail, and then criticize them for it. Sadly, change agents get more of what they pay attention to.
People going through adversity are Responsible
When their Responsibility switch is on, change-agents recognize that everyone is 100% responsible for their own thoughts, feelings and behaviors. They own their mistakes, make changes when things aren’t working, and never point fingers. When they want something, they clearly articulate it and ask for help to achieve it. They also hold others appropriately accountable for their own thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
When their Responsibility switch is off, change-agents confuse who is responsible for what. They play favorites, find scapegoats, and use people as “examples,” sending the message that they are willing to undermine others to get what they want. They apply rules inconsistently and hold people to unrealistic standards.
Compassionate Change Agents Have Their Switches On
When all their switches are on, the best change-agents help students turn adversity into opportunities to learn and grow by treating their students as valuable, capable, and responsible. These are the three aspects of compassionate leadership that helps people, teams, and organizations weather the most difficult storms and rise to the occasion.
For a great example of this, I encourage you to listen to my interview with Gary Ridge, former Chairman and CEO of WD-40, recognized by Inc Magazine as one of top 10 CEOs in the world. The WD-40 Company’s compassionate culture is based on Garry’s philosophy that a tribe is more successful than a team. Garry explained to me that, “a team is something you play on. A tribe is something you belong to like a family. Tribes feed and protect each other. Teams come and go, but tribes thrive over the long term.”
During Covid-19 pandemic The WD-40 Company thrived and grew stronger thanks to its culture of compassion characterized by a safe and strong team-focused environment, transparent communication, consistent high standards, and leaders who role-modeled the company values. WD-40 already had a long track record of success, but when many global organizations were struggling to survive and keep great talent, engagement at WD-40 went up to an all time high. In 2021, 98% of employees said they were excited to work there.
If you are a change-agent who wants to build a tribe of people who can thrive during adversity, remember to keep your Compassion Switches on.