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How Does Adversity Make You Stronger? Author Joseph Michelli Explains

Posted by Christine B. Whittemore on Mar 29, 2021 8:00:00 AM

This is a 6 minute read.

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Given the intensity of adversity that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused, how much stronger have you become? After all, you've had to keep going, reimagine family and work interactions, learn how to stay safe against an invisible foe, and generally remain sane and calm despite a dire situation this world hasn't experienced since the 1918 Spanish Flu.

In his latest book, author Joseph A. Michelli examines that very topic. Stronger Through Adversity" details learnings from conversations with over 140 global business leaders as they have weathered the pandemic, and even figured out how to thrive. The result delivers invaluable and wise lessons on how to become stronger.

Joseph, by the way is passionate about leadership and the customer experience. I met him in 2010 when he participated in Bathroom Blogfest with his article Quality Toilet Paper and Starbucks based on his book Leading the Starbucks Way.

Here are two other articles relating to Joseph:

>> Wow Your Customers, Starting with The Zappos Retail Experience

>> Is Your Customer Experience Driven To Delight the Mercedes-Benz Way?

Author Joseph Michelli Discusses Stronger Through Adversity

CB: Joseph, tell us about your background, and how has that influenced you to become such a passionate author.

JM: Christine, at age 13, I started working as a radio announcer in my small town of Canon City, Colorado.

Through college and graduate school, I continued in radio but increasingly became enamored with the power of the written word.

Fast forward to my career as a leadership and customer experience consultant. Now I merge my passion for helping leaders and businesses elevate customer experiences with my desire to share leadership success stories through books.

CB: How did Stronger Through Adversity come together for you?

JM: Stronger Through Adversity is the byproduct of adversity.

I had a contract to write a McGraw-Hill book about a client of mine - Godiva Chocolatier. Unfortunately, the pandemic curtailed that project and catapulted me onto numerous COVID-19 task forces for other clients.

As I worked with leaders to keep team members safe and engage customers, I saw vastly different approaches. I began asking leaders how they were approaching these epic times, and those conversations led to more conversations. Before I knew it, I’d completed more than 140 conversations with global leaders of for-profit, nonprofit and public safety organization. 

In short order, McGraw-Hill published Stronger Through Adversity.

Stronger Through Adversity is the byproduct of adversity says Joseph Michelli.

CB: What surprised you the most as you conversed with these world-class leaders?

JM: I was astonished by how open and vulnerable leaders were throughout the pandemic. 

I have been a consultant for almost 30 years. As such, I understand the optimistic spin that can come from the C-suite. I am not sure if it was my clinical psychologist skills kicking-in, or if leaders were less guarded. In any case,  I heard many stories of fear, sleeplessness, and extreme anxiety.

CB: Did you observe patterns that coincided with previous research you’ve conducted?

JM: Absolutely! 

For quite some time I had been writing about 21st-century organizations needing to be “technology-aided and human-powered.” 

Those types of companies fared better throughout the pandemic than those that hadn’t merged the best tech with the best human service.

CB: What is the secret to resilience?

JM: I am not sure there are many secrets remaining when it comes to adaptivity.  Humans have been adjusting to the environment since the beginning of time. It is clear, however, that some people have developed more effective coping skills. 

One key to adaptive success is to resist the natural tendency to turn inward during a crisis.

In the book, I talk about “leaving the island” and reaching out for support and guidance.  Many of the most adaptive leaders I interviewed consistently sought input from team members, colleagues, and even competitors.

CB: How does that change given an environment where science and truth have been so intensely attacked?

JM: Undeniably truth was at a premium. I intentionally didn’t interview political leaders (on the left or the right) because I didn’t want self-serving political interests to cloud the leadership picture. 

The book’s participants (people like the CEOs and Presidents of Target, Verizon, Marriott, and Microsoft) sought scientific, economic, and medical truths.

They needed truth and direction to keep their team members and customers safe while also positioning their business for success the next day, week, or month.

CB: Joseph, how has the pandemic affected you?

JM: I missed my children and grandchildren terribly. I also watched friends and family become infected and battle COVID. 

While live speaking events were canceled or postponed early on, I saw a steady transition to virtual presentations.  While the keynote presentation side of my business suffered, those losses were far outweighed by the consulting work I did to help leaders engage and retain customers.

Stronger Through Adversity by Joseph Michelli

CB: Does technology play a role in helping businesses deal with adversity?

JM: Definitely! In Stronger Through Adversity, I wrote,

“So, what will you remember about the pandemic?  Some of us will recall how technology was our lifeline. It’s hard to imagine how we would have operated any business if this type of pandemic had occurred in the late-1970s without the benefits of the World Wide Web.

Many of us undoubtedly will remember the value of cloud computing, online commerce, home delivery, and videoconferencing.”  

I went on to note that we are also likely to remember an increase in leadership empathy and compassion.

CB: What tips would you offer to businesses who’ve struggled to keep going?

JM: While we are all on the same turbulent ocean, we were on different boats. Some leaders like those in retail, food service, events, and travel were in exceptionally rough water. 

I think it is important to suspend judgment, focus on the things you can control, keep rowing, and look for opportunities that emerge when you least expect them. 

In the book, I talk about “following the terrain.”  As I was learning to climb 14,000 peaks in Colorado, an instructor told me,

when the map and the terrain diverge – ALWAYS follow the terrain.” 

Be willing to abandon your plan and go where the terrain leads.

CB: What about to those who have successfully weathered this time?

JM: First, be grateful to all those who helped you through the worst of your challenges. Often, we are so busy fighting for survival that we forget to say “thank you” to the team members, customers, and communities that helped us survive and thrive. 

Next, I would encourage you to do business with those who didn’t fare as well.  We live in a global economy which will be fighting for recovery for years to come.  By looking for ways to do business with those less fortunate, you expedite our overall recovery. 

I am convinced that “service serves us.”  On that note, thanks for engaging me, and I hope we all emerge Stronger Through Adversity!

CB: Thank you, Joseph!

In this 35-minute video interview, you can hear Joseph discuss his book in more detail. 

You can learn more about Stronger Through Adversity from these articles:

>> 4 Leadership Tactics from Joseph Michelli’s Book, “Stronger Through Adversity” 

>> 4 Leadership Lessons to Emerge Stronger Through Adversity

Has Adversity Made You Stronger? 

How has adversity affected you? Are you working differently, trying different approaches for dealing with anxiety? Let me know in the comments.

Thank you for reading.

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Topics: customer experience

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