When faced with a challenge, remember where your power comes from

Article published by American City Business Journals on April 3, 2023.

We all face life and career challenges. How we face those challenges can determine our success. I have certainly faced many of them throughout my career. Challenges build fortitude and perseverance. They may cause us to experience sleepless nights, but overcoming them allows us to grow.

Many years ago, I reported to a division general manager who was a tyrant and had an intimidating style. He frequently lost his cool for no apparent reason. He micromanaged the work of the mid-level managers reporting to him. People within his organization were afraid to make decisions on their own to avoid his wrath, even when those decisions were within the scope of their authority. 

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is a line from Kelly Clarkson’s hit song that applies to those who reported to this tyrant.

One day I was in his office being yelled at about some issue. It was so inconsequential that today I don’t remember what it was. After a few moments, I got up and told him that I was leaving, and when he was ready to discuss the issue in a calm manner, he could call me and ask me to return. I then walked out of his office. 

Within ten minutes, he came to my office and was a different person. Through a calm and thoughtful conversation, we quickly resolved the issue. I then knew I had him. I was no longer going to let him disrespect me, and he didn’t.

This incident helped me build confidence and was instrumental in my development as a leader, which helped me rise into positions of increasing responsibility, eventually to the position of the company’s CEO.

What helped me that day to risk being fired by walking out of his office? I recalled a very powerful statement spoken by runner Eric Little, who won a gold medal for Great Britain in the 1924 Olympics as depicted in the film, Chariots of Fire. That inspirational statement is:

“So where does the power come from to see the race to its end? From within.”

That statement has helped me many times when facing career challenges. I have shared the statement with many others and helped them apply it to the challenge they were facing. Their power comes from within.

When the presidency of my company’s Canadian subsidiary became available, I applied for and won the position over two very capable leaders and moved my family to Toronto.

Three years later I was again promoted, this time to the newly established position of group president and moved back to corporate headquarters in the U.S. In my new position, the tyrant reported to me. He continued to berate his direct reports, so I fired him, much to the joy of his division’s employees. I chose an excellent leader to replace him, and the division again started to grow.

The lesson for all leaders—never tolerate a tyrant reporting to you. They can cause damage to their organization. Part company with them. And remember Eric Little’s statement to overcome challenges and adversity: “So where does the power come from to see the race to its end? From within.” After you look into the deep, dark abyss, it becomes your finest hour, and you emerge stronger than before. 

Stan Silverman is founder of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.

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