Growth Through Hell

When I lead leadership development workshops, we often begin with a well-known exercise which highlights a person’s Journey Line – in other words: how a person has gone through life up to this point, and how their highs and lows create the person (and leader) they have become.

I, for one, believe we grown and learn much more through our adversities than our successes.

A few weeks ago, Quintin E. Primo III, co-founder and chief executive of Capri Capital Partners, was interviewed by Adam Bryant for the New York Times.

Mr. Bryant honed in on what Mr. Primo had learned through his esteemed career. The question he asked, which prompted the attached response was: What was the most important leadership lessons for you? Highlights from his response are below – and are 100%  in complete alignment with mine:

“Leadership, in my opinion, is best learned, or honed, through adversity. And it’s in times of adversity that one must step up to the plate and do something. You have to do this, or do that, but you just can’t stand still. You have to take action in adversity.

And for me, probably the most poignant moment in my career as a leader was when my first business failed miserably. We were crushed by the real estate markets of the early ’90s. We went into a head wind, a very stiff head wind.

Back then we were a very young, emerging organization with no real business, and just simply got crushed. It was a boutique investment brokerage company that focused on international investors and their investments in the United States. So we entered into a death spiral, roughly two years after I started the firm in ’88. And managing down, as the Titanic is sinking, you’re not even worried about the deck chairs.

It taught me a lot about who I was. It taught me a great deal about the folks I had selected to work with me on this sinking ship.

It was a very frightening period for me, but what I’ve learned is that one must have faith, faith in something larger than yourself, or you truly will be sunk. Whether that faith is faith in the common good of man, whether it’s in universal rhythm or karma, or whether it be simply in God, there has to be something larger than you.

Existentialists don’t do well in adversity. So it was the faith that I had in myself, faith that I had in others around me, the faith that I knew that I was not defined by this company, or what I did. But if the company fails, if it failed, no one died. Life moves on.

You walk through the gates of hell, and realize that you can emerge, you’re still alive, you’re intact. And if you’re an entrepreneur, you’ve learned a lesson. And that lesson has now made you a better entrepreneur, and you can move on to bigger, hopefully better situations. But you have to be able to perceive clearly that this moment in time does not define your career, does not define you. It’s simply a moment in time, and time is endless.

In that period of adversity for me, I discovered that my employees, as such, were really part of my family. And you will sacrifice, you will do extraordinary things to protect your family, and feed them, and clothe them. You will sacrifice greatly. And so, in this period of adversity, I had to move outside of me. It no longer was all about me, but about making sure that the hardship on those who worked with me was as modest, as low, as possible. It just shifted priorities.

After graduating from Harvard Business School, and having success for eight golden years in real estate, I thought I was the next great thing since sliced bread. In abundance, it’s very easy to lose focus. But in adversity, one must have extreme focus.”

Well said!