Back to all Blog Posts.
Blog Post

Quitter, Camper, or Climber? What Sets Apart an Exceptional Leader

The adversity quotient (AQ) is the understanding and measurement of human resilience and capacity to live, work and deal with unavoidable and undesirable circumstances. The term was coined by Paul Stoltz in 1997 as a way of assessing the ability of individuals to cope with and respond to adversity. Top institutions like Harvard, MIT, and Carnegie Mellon utilize AQ as a “gold standard” for assessing how people handle challenges and have found a direct correlation between AQ and exceptional leadership. 

Stoltz categorized people into three types based on their AQ; Quitters, Campers, and Climbers. Quitters are those most easily broken by negative events who quickly become hopeless and give up when they encounter a barrier. Campers are willing to fight to an extent but are not persistent in their efforts. They prefer comfort over success and shy away from negative experiences. Climbers are resilient and ready to fight to attain success regardless of the challenges they face. They are self-motivated and consistent with their efforts, meeting adversity with optimism.  

Especially in today’s world, when the global community has been shaken by varying degrees of crises following the pandemic, isolation, a financial recession, social injustice and more, strong AQ is an essential quality of a strong leader. 

Below, we dive into five defining traits of leaders with a high AQ. 

 

Optimism  

Optimism in the face of adversity can at times be considered naïve; however, there is a great deal of resilience and emotional maturity that come from remaining positive despite external circumstances. One key factor of AQ is the extent to which emotions extrapolate to other aspects of life. For example, some professionals are more easily able to shake off the stress or disappointment of a professional failure to avoid it impacting how they feel about something in their personal life. One disappointment or challenge does not hinder them from taking another risk or trying something new. 

The ability to cope with various stressors and de-personalize failure ultimately impacts how quickly someone can recuperate and move on. Rather than fall into self-pity, these leaders’ self-esteem is not impacted by defeat. 

Stoltz totes the ability to turn obstacles into opportunities as one of the defining characteristics of a resilient leader. As an example, famous author J.K. Rowling was on welfare and spent some time homeless as 12 major publishers rejected her Harry Potter manuscript. Her resilience has now led her to be considered one of the world’s most powerful women, and one of less than 250 female billionaires.  

 

Endurance 

Endurance, as it applies to AQ, is the extent to which one is capable of tolerating “pain” while believing that something positive awaits them on the other side of adversity that is worth working for. A steady leader places emphasis on cooperation, sincerity and dependability. Only the most tenacious of leaders can resist burnout and continue to pivot strategies in order to protect their business and people during this challenging period. While today’s challenges look very different than in year’s past, leaders with strong AQ continue to learn from previous mistakes and victories in order to gain perspective and inspiration.  

The last few months have likely been stressful to employees and employers alike. The combination of a pandemic, financial recession, fears for health and job safety and rapid change to routine may have created the perfect storm for heightened stress levels. Being a leader with endurance does not mean simply continuing to innovate and drive your team harder, it also means knowing how to care for yourself and your team to focus on long-term success and avoid burnout. As an example, many hospital systems have been stretched to their max, with doctors and nurses working around the clock to help care for patients. Healthcare leaders have had to get more resourceful in order to care for the mental wellbeing of their employees and keep them operating at their maximum capacity. This includes finding new ways to show appreciation, like nightly applause for frontline workers, and ways to relieve stress, like meditation apps and yoga classes.  

 

Self-Motivated 

The desire to achieve and to make adverse situations better intrinsically motivates those with high AQ and allows them to persevere in even the toughest situations. Exceptional leaders do not wait for someone else to fix an issue that they themselves can tackle. Taking ownership of a goal and responsibility for a mistake is vitalLeaders must admit their shortcomings and know when they need guidance from others to pull themselves back up, but do not quit or blame others when something goes wrong.   

Leaders who are extremely successful are motivated not by money or power, but by genuine curiosity and the desire to improve. As an example, Bill Gates, while already one of the wealthiest and most successful people alive, continues to spend hours every day reading and learning as much as possible. While he has no need to continue working as hard as he does, he is driven to do so by the desire to innovate and problem-solve. 

 

Self-Disciplined 

When faced with crisis, rapid change, or failure, it is essential that leaders have the discipline and control to make rational and careful decisions, rather than react emotionally. When a leader with strong AQ runs into a barrier, they problem-solve and make a calculated decision of how to proceed. Their determination is stronger than the challenge presented, and they are willing to continue to try again even though they risk failure. 

Disciplined leaders look at the bigger picture and act in terms of long-term growth. For instance, a leader who delegates tasks to inexperienced employees knows they run the risk of failure on that task but allows them to try anyways. Rather than step in, a leader with AQ encourages them to learn from their mistakes and overcome them in order to improve their skills and take on more responsibility down the line.  

 

Flexible 

Determination and motivation, while important aspects of AQ, are nothing without the ability adapt to change. One of the aspects measured within the Adversity Response Profile is an individual’s reaction to change, and how readily they pivot to meet their current challenge. Leaders with AQ not only adapt by necessity, but actively seek out new challenges in order to learn and develop their skills. They have the courage to move ahead without knowing what the future holds. 

While many companies during the pandemic were forced to reinvent themselves and pivot business strategies, one such example of flexibility is Smedley Events. Lara Smedley, founder of Smedley Events, went from having to cancel dozens of upcoming large group events in March to rebranding and launching a new company merely two months later capitalizing on the empty seats in stadiums across the country. Smedley gave people who would normally attend games a chance to support their favorite teams by paying to fill a seat with a cardboard cutout of themselves. This willingness to entirely pivot a business, paired with the creativity and ingenuity to do so, is a key contributing factor to AQ. 
 

Extreme adversity, which many have faced this year, requires strong AQ. Both personal and professional challenges, when embraced and used as opportunities to grow, can help strengthen a person’s resilience and position them as a stronger leader in the years to come. If you’re looking to add resilient leaders to your team, contact us here. 

 

SHARE THIS: