MANY of us
would think the answer to the question of “Do hard times
produce the best leaders?” would be a forgone
conclusion. Surely hard times produce the best leaders.
However, what if I told you that there was another list?
A much longer list with names of people we don’t know
and those never became leaders? For whatever reason,
when hard times came, these nameless people did not
It is true that hard times produce the best leaders.
However, it is also equally true that those hard times
cause many people to fail and quit. Adversity can bring
out the best of the worst in us.
So the more important question is how do we emerge from
times as victors rather than victims?
Let us first examine what are considered hard times and
the effects they have on us. Hard times, downturn, bad
luck, Murphy’s law or whatever you might want to call it
revolves around seemingly negative situations that
thrust themselves into our live. It bring about three
Disruption of daily routines
switch from primary thinking to primal instincts
change from know to unknown territory
Disruption of Daly Routines
Humans are creatures of habit. Even in the most random
person, you will find a pattern of living. We seek to
structure and create orderliness in our lives as it
brings about certainty. Much of people’s eating,
sleeping, working, interactions, thinking and even
feeling are mostly routine.
Not all routines are bad though’ we need a level of
certainty in order to lead a sane life. The more
important question is, who is the master in our live? We
Hard times have an uncanny ability to put this question
to test. It puts a stop to daily routines. Many people
don’t handle hard times well because they have made
routines the master over their lives.
How do we know if routines are mastering our lives? It’s
simple and we only need to ask ourselves this question:
Do I have other things to do if I had away routines,
many people are at a loss of what to do.
It’s a common occurrence where people are so busy with
work, assignments and life in general and when there is
suddenly free time, they are dumbfounded.
How then do we manage disruptions? The answer lies not
in what we do during the disruptions but rather before
the disruptions. Ironically, we need to get into
routines-routines of creating little pockets of
uncertainties in our daily life. Why is there a need to
When a person leads a routine life, the autopilot mode
creates an environment where the brain is note required
to think actively outside the box. This softens or
weakens a person’s ability to handle change. As such,
when change comes, the person is ill-equipped to manage
To create pockets of uncertainties, we can begin by
examining why we do the thing we do everyday. We will
find that behind routines there are objectives. List
down our daily routines and also the objectives behind
More often than not, we will find that a single
objective will be clustered with a few routines. Take a
look at the examples below:
Objective: Make a living
Routines: Work, read industry-related articles,
network with industry people and attend conferences.
Routines: Facebook, chat with friends, catch a movie
and hang out with friends over meals.
Changing our routines for the sake of creating
uncertainty is not a wise way to go about it. Instead,
why not introduce new objectives in our lives. For
example, we can put in the new objective of self
improvement. This will cause us to rethink how to
allocate time for this new objective and eliminate some
routines from other objective.
Most importantly, act on the new objectives by
structuring a few activities and then executing them. By
just doing a simple thing like this, we have created
little pockets of uncertainties in our lives. We will
find that when disruptions come, we are much better
equipped to handle change. The best leaders know how to
create little pockets of uncertainties in their lives.
A Switch From Primary Thinking To Primal Instincts
Our brains are wired by nature to survive. The brain’s
function is to scan for danger and look for ways to
avoid it. A simple example is when we touch a hot
kettle; is an instant response whereby we pull our hands
away – even without us actively thinking about it.
When someone hides in a corner and scares us, we
startled – our hearts beat faster, adrenaline enters our
system, our senses prick up, our muscles go into a
tensed state – all at the brain’s command to get the
body to fight or run. This is what we call primal
When we face adversity, the brain takes on a similar
thinking pattern. The brain will look for the easiest
and fastest way to end the difficult situation.
There are two time-proven strategies-avoid the problem
or quit to stop the problem. While these strategies may
help us survive, is that what we want to do with our
lives? Merely survive?
Leaders would want to win and not just survive. As such,
there is a need to switch our thinking from reactive
(primal instinct) to response (primary thinking). To do
this, we need to train our brains to do a few things:
Stop-don’t do the first thing that comes to mind. Do
the situation, remove emotions to get objectivity
and get wise counsel for a third party perspective.
easier said than done to do the above. We are
constantly being pushed to make decisions as fast as
possible with little information and by just relying
on gut instincts. The combination of these three
things is a recipe for disaster.
A Change From Known To Unknown Territory
Hand times are frightening because it brings us from
what we know to what we don’t. We fear what we don’t
know. Many people get paralysed by this fear and go into
the primary instincts to either avoid or quit the
situation. Now it is not what we feel that is important
but how we respond to those feelings that make us a
Firstly, we need to accept that fear, anxiety and all
the other emotions that come with adversity are
perfectly normal. In fact, they are beneficial in the
sense that you are aware of the problem and that the
brain is priming yourself for the situation.
However, if you continue of focus on fear-the problem
will always becomebigger even when it is not. You fall
deeper into a sense of hopelessness and despair. Don’t
focus on fear Focus instead on the positive outcome of
what to achieve. This does not take away fear, but
instead manages it with the right perspective.
As we continue to focus on the outcome, what happens is
that our brain starts to feed off positive emotions
instead of negative ones. This makes a world of
difference on how we make decisions. So when we face the
unknown, acknowledge our fear but don’t focus on them.
So the next time we face hard times, remember we can
choose to be on a list of leaders or on a list of
WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum - a Ukrainian who
survived on food stamps when he migrated to USA.
Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson –
suffered from dyslexia
founder Tan Sri Tony Fernandes – mortgaged his home
to start up AirAsia
International bestselling author John Grisham –
first book was rejected by 12 publishing houses and 16
of Hutchinson Whampoa Li Ka-Shing – forced to leave
school at age 15 due to father’s death and worked 16
hours a day in a factory.
Animation extraordinaire Walt Disney – fired from a
newspaper because he lacked imagination and had no
KFC founder Colonel Sanders – at the age of 65, marketed
his secret recipe and was rejected by over 1,000