Leadership Lessons: Bad apple adversity

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Stewart Mitchell
  • 319th Air Base Wing weapons safety manager
When I was first approached with the idea of writing about leadership and adversity, I wasn't sure I had something meaningful to contribute. You see, there has never been that one event in my life that sparked some kind of epiphany--an "ah-ha" moment that suddenly clarified all sense of purpose and direction. For me, learning leadership and overcoming adversity has been a journey that some may bluntly just describe as "growing up." Then it occurred to me: leadership doesn't occur overnight anyway and adversity is all around us in many forms, some of which are so subtle and engrained into our daily lives that we often don't even notice them.

Adversity is a fancy way to describe bad luck. Not to downplay it at all, but life is full of adversity and it happens to the best of us. What we do with it when it comes our way is what defines us as leaders however. Throughout my career I have been faced with what I call bad apple adversity. When it happens it takes on many forms and might not be recognizable at first, but it's found in leaders, peers, and subordinates alike. Bad apple adversity is caused by someone who demonstrates incompetence, laziness, ignorance or simply makes a mistake and doesn't own up to it. Like a bad apple, they spoil the morale, discipline and cohesion of an otherwise healthy unit and consequently let you down in some way and then you have to deal with the situation you're stuck in or find a way out.

"Yes there are two paths you can go by but in the long run, you can still change the road you're on." This lyric from the famous Led Zeppelin song "Stairway to Heaven" is a great piece of advice in my opinion. In an adverse situation, you may have three choices: quit, leave the problem for somebody else, or stay right where you are and make the best of it. As you might've guessed, only one of those options demonstrates genuine leadership ability.

Leadership isn't gleaned from the latest trends or how-to books; leadership is crafted from the building blocks of experiences throughout your career and your life. That being said, bad apple adversity is part of what has shaped me as a leader today. Besides the countless examples of awesome leadership I have both witnessed and learned from, if it wasn't for the leaders that failed me, the subordinates who let me down and the peers that just wouldn't pull their own weight, I wouldn't have built the leadership foundation I have today. Of course you should learn from your own mistakes, but more importantly you should learn from the mistakes of others. What a better way to collect those building blocks than to take them from the experiences of others. Alternatively, if someone wrongs you, carry that lesson with you and wield it as a tool to help positively shape the future--don't be the one that perpetuates bad apple adversity, be the force of change.