View Mobile Site

Ask the Expert

Signal Photos


Ken Keller: The role adversity can play in success

Posted: May 4, 2010 3:21 p.m.
Updated: May 5, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to re-read portions of the best-selling biography of Abraham Lincoln, "Team of Rivals," by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

While I was digesting portions of that well-written and well-researched book, I picked up the current issue of Esquire Magazine and read an interview with Carol Bartz, the CEO of Yahoo.

What struck me were the similarities between Lincoln and Bartz, and how that plays a role in trying to find good people to work in your company.

The "Horatio Alger" story of Abraham Lincoln is covered in grade school, and mostly forgotten by students before entering high school. Lincoln's mother died when he was 9 years old, a younger brother died in infancy, and his older sister died when he was 19.

His father remarried, but his family moved often. Lincoln later estimated that the total amount of time he actually spent in school was less than a year.

But Lincoln was determined, and two things set him apart from others. The first was his sense of humor, which he picked up listening to his father tell stories at night when visitors were in their log cabin home. The second was his mission to learn.

He later gave this advice to a law student in 1855: "Get the books, and read and study them. ... The books and your capacity for understanding them are just the same in all places. ... Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing."

While successful as an attorney, his political career was less so. He served one term in Congress, and lost all other election races, except for his candidacy to be president in 1860 and re-election in 1864.

At several points in his life, Lincoln commented that he was willing to die, except that, "he had done nothing to make any human being remember that he had lived."

His own family suffered tragedy, as well. His son, Edward, died at the age of 3. A second son, Willie, died in the White House when Lincoln was president. His wife suffered from migraine headaches that were the source of tirades and tantrums, often in public, sparing no one.

Lincoln presided over the most tumultuous time in the nation's history, the Civil War. Despite the mounting casualties and calls for an end to the war, Lincoln stayed the course to preserve the union.

Bartz has a different story, but with many similarities. Her mother died when she was 8 years old, and at the age of 12, she went to live with her grandparents. On her rise to the top she held a number of jobs, including being a cocktail waitress, a sales rep, a sales manager and working her way up through the ranks, becoming the CEO at AutoDesk, and now at Yahoo.

Why did I select these two individuals to discuss this topic? Both Lincoln and Bartz faced serious adversity as they were growing up.

Both had to deal with both the pain and the challenges of being motherless.

Both Lincoln and Bartz had the same choice: let the adversity they faced cripple and hold them back, or deal with it as best they could and move on in life.

Why does this matter to your business? Adversity creates character. Adversity provides tools for overcoming obstacles; it is often a source of fuel to focus the drive of a person.

Most successful people I know - or have read about or heard about - have suffered through some sort of serious adversity in their lives. These people understand what it means to lose a loved one, suffer through severe financial hardship, fight a life-threatening illness or an injury, and yet, they persevere.

Aren't those the kind of people you want working with you and beside you in your business?

If that is true, why don't you have a conversation about overcoming adversity as part of the your interview process?

Ken Keller is president of Renaissance Executive Forums, which brings business owners together in facilitated peer advisory boards. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Brain Food for Business People" appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


Most Popular Articles

There are no articles at this time.
Commenting not available.
Commenting is not available.


Powered By
Morris Technology
Please wait ...