Adversity (Excerpt from Rebound: From Pain to Passion – Leadership Lessons Learned)

“Life is not fair. Get used to it.”—Bill Gates 212

I was proud of the way I emotionally managed the 8-20 season. I never placed blame on the players or the previous staff. A leader needs to be out front and handle criticism in a professional manner. You have to lead with grace in times of adversity and you need to show strength.

I tried to follow these guidelines:

• Don’t hide

• Be honest without embarrassing anyone

• Control the narrative

• Develop a well-thought-out plan with key advisors

• Communicate the plan with a touch of hope for a better day

Stay positive during setbacks. When Sean May got hurt in 2003, I didn’t panic. It was “next man up,” and we won the very next game only two nights later. People are watching and they will follow your lead.

Temperament is such an important part of leadership. The ability to stay calm in the face of adversity is a challenge for many of us, but it can be developed. You have to be like an actor on Broadway.

Looking back, I should have managed the team after our loss to Georgetown. Maybe I would have still been forced to resign, but I may have had more control of the situation.

Control the narrative in bad times. People will create their own narrative if you don’t take charge of it. I should have attended the press conference. If I had been present, it would have been difficult for the press conference to turn negative about my leadership.

Compassion. Sometimes, we show more compassion to others than we do to ourselves.

Understand you are not defined by your success in your chosen field. On your death bed, you will be defined by the type of life you led and the impact you made on the people and communities you touched along the way.

People talk about the boss. You have to be secure in your own skin. Whether you like it or not, people will gather in small groups and talk about you.

Manage the noise. Compartmentalize things so you can focus on the present. This is easier said than done, but it is critical to stay in the present and not let stress impact deci- sions or your health.

Perspective. I think it is critical to put things in perspective in the face of adversity. I carried a military coin in my pocket given to me by Lieutenant Colonel Matt Karres. Matt was from Chapel Hill and served in several wars. I learned a lot of leadership lessons from him. When I was faced with a tough loss or a difficult season, I was able to say to myself, “It could be worse. I could be in Afghanistan.” I would often say to my team after a setback that if this is the worst thing you face in your life, you will lead a charmed life.

Sports teaches you many lessons.

Your Rolodex will get cleared out when you fail. Some people won’t call when you lose your job. You thought you had a lot of friends, but 75 percent of them will not reach out to you when you fail. Why? Some people don’t know what to say and others were friends with your position, not with you! This can be therapeutic because now you know who your true friends are. I still remember who called me … and who didn’t!

Adversity will test your faith. I choose to lean on God.


• “So what! Now what!” —Principal Linda Cliatt-Wayman 214

• “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” –Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV

• “Take the high road, there is less traffic up there!” —Dr. Kevin White

• “It is easy to become bitter but try to get better. People don’t like to be around negative people.”

• “Look through the front windshield, not the rearview mirror.”

• “Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” —John F. Kennedy

• “Compassion and grace come from inner strength. It is not a sign of weakness if the leader is secure with him or herself.”

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