In the past three weeks, I have seen a lot of airports. Nine to be precise. Which means I found myself wandering through the arrivals or departures area on 18 different occasions, to fly in and out of the country. That leaves a lot of time to browse the book shops where the business and self-help sections usually get all my attention. My obsessive curiosity to learn from great thinkers and doers continually fuels my mind and deepens my insights on how to master our potential.

It’s no surprise that a common theme amongst books today is ‘Leadership in Tough Times’.  It’s an interesting topic, and one that applies to the business world as much as it does to our own personal lives.

How do you respond in tough times, when life presents a ‘major problem’? Do you get angry and look to lay blame on others? Do you freeze like a deer in headlights, convincing yourself you don’t know what to do next? Maybe you seek shelter from the storm by running to a friend, the fridge or some other pleasure-seeking distraction? Do you just cover your head and hope it will go away?

Or do you behave in a way that empowers you? That enables you to rise to the challenge and accept responsibility for making a change? Have you developed emotional fortitude to confidently face the tough times and strengthen your willpower to overcome the odds?

On reflection, I realise I have developed a few core beliefs that help me to keep calm and determined when things get shaky, leaving extra reserves of emotional strength to lead myself and others towards better times.

1. There is no problem I can’t handle

I have a belief that God won’t give me a problem that I can’t handle. Regardless of how ferocious, colossal or down-right nasty the problem is, I trust that I will be able to handle it.

It doesn’t mean I will know the answer or enjoy dealing with it, or not freak out along the way. But rather, I have faith that my capacity – and the capacity within each one of us – to take on enormous challenges is always greater than we think it is. I will use my strengths, my creativity and my resourcefulness to find the solution and make it so. One bad problem does not overrule all the good I have in my life, and keeping it in perspective really helps.

Tough times won’t destroy you. You can handle it, and I know you will.

2. The bigger the problem, the more I will grow

As a powerful complement to that first belief, I know that when a problem lands, it’s just another occasion where I am going to be challenged to grow. It’s an opportunity to learn more about myself, my compassion and my abilities. The bigger the challenge the more I will have to dig deeper into my convictions, to use resources I forgot I had, to work on strengthening my will, my faith and take my next step forward.

I understand and recognise that it will teach me important lessons (including painful ones I don’t want to face) and cause me to come out on the other side a better, stronger man for the experience.

This isn’t a belief or perspective I’ve always had: it’s one that surfaced a few years ago and serves me very well to keep a level head and spend more time focusing on finding a solution, than dwelling in the pain of the problem. Pain is a part of life, suffering is a choice.

It sounds odd, but now on some level when a big problem arises, I actually get a little excited to see what I’m going to learn and how I’m going to grow from this. This has totally shifted my approach and empowers me like nothing before.

That’s not blind optimism; it’s a truth that is always there for you to see as soon as you decide to be open and look for it.

3. Leaders are made in tough times

It’s easy to be a leader when things are going well. Profits rising? What an outstanding CEO! Back-to-back championships? The captain and the coach are the greatest of all time! Yet, the true test of a leader is when things turn for the worst. Can she remain focused yet flexible to still achieve her goals? Can he rally the troops to not lose confidence and inspire them to dig deeper, work harder and become closer as a team?

I see tough times as a calling for me to step up and become the leader I am meant to be.

When the going gets tough, you need to believe, not doubt; to create, not destroy; to bond not separate; to step up and  defy the odds, set a new standard for yourself and those around you.

Having all these empowering beliefs, does not exempt me from misfortune and periods of immense pain. So when stuff happens I simply remind myself that ‘this too shall pass’.

All pain is temporary. Yes, the sun will rise again and there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Despite all your best intentions, keen desire and self-belief, sometimes you just can’t fix the situation. But hold on to the knowing that tough times won’t last forever. You CAN handle this, and the experience WILL enable you to become more of who you are meant to be.

How might these ideas help you to respond differently in the future? Leave a comment to share how you used to respond in tough times, or what you find works best for you in coping with big challenges. Other readers, and I, will appreciate hearing from you.