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

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There have been a lot of changes recently in the world of work, with unemployment reaching all-time lows, predictions of a recession impacting some business’ hiring decisions, many large tech companies undergoing layoffs, and more. With a shifting economy comes shifting employee needs and emerging workplace trends – and we did the research for you on how to support and retain talent throughout it all. Download our latest report today.


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, AQ is an essential quality of a strong leader. Below, we dive into five defining traits of leaders with a high AQ. 



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. 



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 years have likely been stressful to employees and employers alike. 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.   



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. 



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.  



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. The willingness to entirely pivot a business, paired with the creativity and ingenuity to do so, is a key contributing factor to AQ. 

Extreme adversity 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. 


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