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Aug. 27, 2013, Prince Albert, Sask. - Adversity is the condition or state of serious or continued difficulty. Don’t ask me where I read this definition because I failed to record it, but in my opinion this is as good a definition as you will find.

August 27, 2013 
By Les Karpluk

There are times when we are faced with adversity while fulfilling our leadership roles. As part of this discussion about the principle of adversity – one of my seven guiding principles – I like to tell the story of Nelson Mandela. One can only imagine the conditions that Mandela endured during the 27 years he spent in prison, and one might expect that Mandela would have had a negative attitude when he was released in 1990.

However, in 1993, Mandela received the Nobel Peace prize for his work in dismantling apartheid. In 1994 the first democratic elections were held in South Africa and Mandela was elected president. For five years, Mandela served the county. What an amazing story of victory over adversity.

So, what’s up with the history lesson? The answer is one of my favorite Mandela quotes: “The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” I have to admit that this quote has provided strength during some adversity in my life – personally and professionally. If Mandela can spend one-third of his life in prison and later lead a country out of apartheid, then I should certainly be strong enough as a fire chief to lead my team through any adversity that is thrown at me.

Often, when we’re frustrated over budgets or labour relations, it is difficult to stay focused and positive, but there is great truth to the old saying that when one door closes another door opens. The great leaders I respect have faced adversity and realized that there is opportunity hidden in every challenge when a leader has the courage to find it. Time after time, I have read stories of leaders who faced significant adversity in their lives, yet they continued to pursue their visions with courage and passion. Yes, they failed at times, but as Gen. George S. Patton once said, “I don't measure a man's success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits bottom.”


I suspect that we learn the most when we face adversity; looking back at my own trials and tribulations, it is now obvious that I grew from those experience. Some of those experiences were hurtful and required a healing period. We need to remind ourselves that no matter how hard we try. we will fail once in a while, and it is how we learn and bounce back that demonstrates our leadership philosophies.

During one of these challenging times, my personal growth occurred when I realized that failing did not mean I was a failure; rather it meant that I had failed to achieve my objective. There is a big difference, and before I came to accept this truth, I found that I had slipped into a negative cycle that drove me deeper into my own self-pity, which manifested in higher levels of stress and poor health. In other words, I was a big part of the problem and, until I understood this truth, growth could not occur.

People who face adversity and grow from it have all the makings of great leaders. As leaders, we should not let anything stand between us and the chance to gain strength and personal growth through the adversity that comes our way. Courageous leaders understand the principle of adversity and are willing to admit that they have faced personal struggles. The last time I checked, authentic leaders also understand the principle of self-awareness. Let’s keep that one for my next blog.

Until next time, lead from within and grow.

Les Karpluk is fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan. He is a graduate of the Lakeland College Bachelor of Business in Emergency Services program and Dalhousie University’s Fire Administration program. Follow Les on Twitter at @GenesisLes .

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