Up Your Game This Season: 7 Leadership Skills to Master As A Coach (Part 7 of 7: Tolerance for Adversity and Uncertainty)

written by Erica Quam


Kerry and I had just moved to Bellingham - back in 2011.  We went for our first backpacking trip together up in the Mt. Baker backcountry.  We planned to do a popular loop in area called the Chain Lakes.  

It wasn't a super long hike - just enough for us to get a taste of the area and amazing views of Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan.  

We were about 500 yards away from our campsite for the night when Kerry took a bad step from snow onto slippery willow.  

She knew immediately that she had broken her lower leg.  

Fortunately, it wasn't a compound fracture. It definitely wasn't an injury she would be able to walk out on.

The reality set in: it was getting late, we were losing daylight, and had no cell service.  

We were going to have to spend the night.

My focus turned immediately on getting her leg splinted and treat her for shock.  We were on a steep incline down to the lake - so it wasn't an ideal place to camp.  Our options were limited - so we did the best we could.  Kerry had to pull herself backwards up the hill...to the snowy ledge that was just large enough for our tent. 

During the most challenging moments in your life, it may be easy to get frustrated or question the universe as to why something happened.  

Instead, I focused on one task at a time.  Kerry just took one breath at a time - until she was lifted out by a helicopter the next day (around 2pm in the afternoon).

While she was waiting, she took time to take in the views and meditate on the mountain.  

Kerry often reflects back on that experience. She believes it has made her a better athletic trainer and massage therapist.  Her reaction to her challenge made all the difference in the world to the outcome of her situation.

When challenges arise, you have a CHOICE as to how you react to the situation. Your reaction to whatever comes up in your life determines the outcome - not the event itself.

As you walk through your day, there are always obstacles that arise. Some are simple and straightforward and others are more involved.

No matter what comes up, you have a choice to respond for the outcome you want.  

It's something that takes practice. In fact, it's actually a skill. 

The more you build up your ability to tolerate the small challenges that come up, the stronger you'll be when you face something more serious.  

As a leader, use adversity as a "teachable moment" for your team or your group.

Start with a small challenge.

Afterwards, take time to debrief. Talk about how they handled things as a group.

  • Discuss what went well?
  • What didn't go well?
  • What specific things would they do differently next time?
  • Who kept a positive outlook?
  • How did they maintain that?
  • Who got stuck and really frustrated? 
  • How can they approach it next time?

Talking about it helps connect the experience with the learning. 

Your team can begin to build their tolerance for adversity and be able to tap into that skill when it really matters. 

Be the leader who helps your group embrace adversity as something that will help them evolve into something even better & stronger than they would if everything was easy.

Tolerance for adversity is a leadership skill that you can improve upon - if you choose to work on it.

I'm curious. What adversity have you faced that at first seemed to be a challenge...and now looking back has become a lesson and inspiration to you? Share in the comments below.