Adversity, resilience, and trust

Organizational consultant Kevin Kennemer, whose Chief People Officer blog I often mention here, recently shared this observation with friends on a social networking site.  I quote it with his permission:

“I prefer to work with people who have dealt with adversity and arisen from brokenness. Those who have never been tested cannot be trusted.”

Kevin, that’s a pretty strong statement!  But I understand where you’re coming from, and I find myself in general agreement.

Defense mechanisms

I used to regard people who obviously had been weathered, bruised, or otherwise tested as damaged goods.  Some had an edge to them, others revealed vulnerabilities that I mistook for weaknesses, and most carried some sort of baggage.  Of course, this reaction was largely a way to avoid my own fears and insecurities.

Now, however, Kevin’s words make eminent sense to me. Obviously people don’t choose adversity and hard times.  And oh how I wish we could learn the lessons of those challenges without the struggle and pain.  But I value qualities of resilience a lot more than I did when I was younger.

Gaining authenticity

Folks who demonstrate the ability to recover from serious challenges and setbacks often gain a special wisdom.  It’s as if an authenticity switch was turned on.  You can talk to them about real stuff and they get it.  This quality, by the way, cuts across demographic, social, and political diversities.

By comparison, too many of the overly sheltered are prone to superficial thinking, act in an entitled way, and have a seeming inability to empathize.  They are great cheerleaders but can make for bad leaders.

Yes, these are generalizations, but they ring true to me.


In hiring and promoting people to positions of responsibility, ethical and legal boundaries may preclude us from asking folks to share all of their worst experiences and how they responded to them.  But my guess is that the answers would be very revealing in terms of who should get the job, and who can be trusted once in the position.

One response

  1. Pingback: The Daily Practice

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