March 27, 2020

The five gifts of adversity

Ceridian President and COO Leagh Turner shares a perspective on turning adversity into opportunity with key lessons to refine leadership during this unprecedented time.

Any time I’ve been able to examine adversity in my rearview mirror, there has always been the unexpected upside: I could see it was possible to rise to that occasion, move forward and get to that other side, weathering a particular storm. As I see it, that’s the gift of adversity: It pushes you higher than imagined. 

Around the world, leaders in role and spirit are facing the unprecedented in anxious times. I submit there are incredible lessons to refine our leadership we will want to notice now, even if it’s merely a way to cope with finding a new normal. 

Building emotional intelligence. In times of uncertainty, when anxiety can cloak an organization, people need to know human beings, not messaging, are at the helm. That means leaders who have the courage to say: “I’m concerned too” or “I don’t know” along with “but we’ll figure it out together.” Right now, we are flexing emotional intelligence muscles and stretching empathy sinews, keeping them flexible and agile. Learning how to reach people in decidedly human ways will serve everyone well.

Rapid, crystallized thinking. Any crisis must have swift responses from leaders and, comparatively speaking, we’ve had the luxury of time. Not anymore. Around the globe, creativity is lighting up and minds are being sharpened: Get to the point quickly, distill what’s important, foreground what audiences need to know – not what we want them to hear. Then repeat. And repeat again. 

Thickening our skin. Find me a perfect leader crisis communications plan and I’ll show you one that’s never been tested. There will be criticisms. There will be detractors. You won’t reach everyone in the way you hope, and some will tell you so, bluntly. Listen. Be humble enough to see each as a critique and an opportunity to learn how to improve – even if it doesn’t feel that way, right away. Also consider what’s behind the criticism. If one looks even just a layer deeper, there will be a very human concern. 

Your plans – and their agility – are being tested. Leaders must keep the business moving, period, for our teams, our customers, and those who still need partners to help keep theirs moving in the right direction. Right now, leaders are finding where the edges are, learning what can expand and contract, what can serve the business in a way they hadn’t anticipated. This is why you planned – to ultimately be tested and see where you need to improve. 

Tough, quick, ethical decisions. What falls away in times like these are the egos, posturing and politics that will slow down (if not stamp out) alignment, focus, and innovation. Whether it's decisions regarding teams, the business or customers, we are all learning what’s most important, and the choices we make now are revealing what any leader, or team, or business is made of. Pay attention. 

Here’s a final gift from adversity: If we choose as much, it will make leaders out of everyone.

Awareness of these gifts is absolutely a means to get through to the other side. But they are also an opportunity for every person in an organization – no matter their position, or the size, industry, or geography of the business – to find the path to a better way of working. Best of all, we’ll figure it out together. 

Leagh Turner

As Ceridian's President and Chief Operating Officer, Leagh Turner is responsible for driving revenue world-wide and daily operations while overseeing the company’s go-to-market strategy and field efforts. A strong advocate for the advancement of women in leadership, Leagh was recognized as one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women at the Women’s Executive Network Top 100 Awards in 2016.

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