If you’ve been a leader for more than about 15 minutes you have a story or two of surviving challenges. And if you’ve been leading a while, the likelihood is this: You’ve survived your share of significant challenges, and tragically seen some leaders crushed by their own challenges. In the face of challenge we look to our confidants and friends, hoping to gather inspiration and encouragement if not a little wisdom for the tough road ahead. These are the moments when your coach, your mommy or your all-inspiring optimistic buddy will tell you, “every challenge is an opportunity for growth.” Or worse yet, “It builds character” and “makes you stronger”.

I am none of those people, and I am just as sick as you are about hearing any of those remarks.
Bottom line, challenges suck. More character, while valuable, is not typically a high priority in those moments.


Money woes sap momentum.
Broken relationships exhaust us emotionally.
Internal struggle debilitates.


That is the reality. No sugar coating, no pumping sunshine. But after the panic and the anxiety do their initial damage on your soul, you have to lead. There are people depending on you, people looking to you hoping and praying you can lead them to a better tomorrow. So you lace up those proverbial boots you’re about to pull up. -Who wears boots with straps these days anyway? Sorry, I digress. These are the moments when the highest level leaders rise up in the face of adversity and lead.


Recently I watched a show on Netflix about two survival experts who get dropped into a terrible scenario each week and have to work together to find a safe way out. I think the name of the show is Dual Survivor. Their job is not to make lemonade, they are not establishing a resort community on the deserted island where they have been dropped. They are trying to survive and escape the challenge with their lives. Pretty simple concept.


We face these same scenarios in leadership all the time. And so as I watched them negotiate their way out of a serious challenge I could not help but think about the challenges dropped on my desk each and every day as a leader. Families in ruin. Finances disappearing. Staff feuding. and more. That’s when the Dual Survivors shared their mantra: improvise, adapt & overcome. A genius little catch phrase that I think applies wonderfully in leadership as well as on a staged reality show.



When a leadership or life challenge comes your way there is a high likelihood that the resources you are used to leading with will not be at your disposal. You don’t have the luxury to lament the loss or look around to find what was lost, you need to improvise with what God has given you to survive.

Remember what Paul heard Jesus whisper into his ear during his many challenges…

My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness. -2 Corinthians 12:9



In the midst of a struggle, challenge or catastrophe it is valuable to not just understand your new reality but really get inside the head of the beast you are facing. If it’s financial woes (seems fitting right now) we as leaders need to understand the numbers, study the trajectories and get a good handle on where we’re at. Schedules and work flow that brought success in the past will NOT work now. We need to adapt to our new reality and become a new leader. You may need to open your mind to a new way of escape…

Again, I look to the Apostle Paul, a guy who was thrown in jail a lot, and God gave him ways to adapt every time…

…When I was in Damascus, the govenor under King Aretas kept guards at the city gates to catch me. I had to be lowered in a basket through a window in the city wall to escape from him. -2 Corinthians 11:32-33



Thirdly, we need to get through this. This is the practical piece that is so often left out by our well-intentioned friends when they give us the “buck up” speech. “It’s not as bad as it looks”, they say. And while that may be correct, and it usually is, what we really need is to get to work staging our escape route. Whether that is high atop a mountain with the sun going down and food running out, or helping a toxic staff member find the door. We need to overcome and we need to do it quickly. Very few survivalists just sit there and hope rescue arrives. They get going.


And finally, and most importantly. Don’t do it alone. The genius of this particular survival show is that unlike the other half dozen survival shows on tv these two guys are working in team. They are not facing the challenge alone. They have different skills and different backgrounds and work together to get out of there alive. Together.


So improvise, adapt & overcome…but do it together. I pray your challenges are short in duration and long in learning. blessings.


to read more from Stu’s regular writings on Leadership click here.