How Adversity Shaped My Thinking

By David Kong

Monday January 11, 2016

As leaders, our role is to help our employees make their jobs fulfilling, motivate them to reach their potential and inspire them to achieve greatness.

However, I didn’t grasp how truly far-reaching this impact could be until I went through a very challenging time in my personal life. When my son was only one month old, a time that is supposed to be filled with moments of joy and newborn firsts, my wife and I received devastating news. We learned that my son had a hole in his heart and would require significant medical intervention in order to survive. Over the next year and a half, we spent countless hours in doctors’ offices and emergency rooms, searching for the right combination of treatments to prepare him for surgery to repair his heart. While I still had to work long hours at my job as the Director of Food and Beverage for a hotel, my wife’s days consisted of complete devotion to helping our son grow stronger while also caring for our daughter. Her patience and strength during that time amaze me to this day.

It was during this difficult period that I began to understand the impact managers can have on their employees. Although I was emotionally drained and physically exhausted, I was exceeding my performance objectives at work. Through the support and dedication of my peers and subordinates, our guest satisfaction scores, revenue growth and profitability were among the best in the company. Incredibly, instead of praises and recognition, my manager was critical of my work and never seemed satisfied. Perhaps in the 80’s, that type of management style was to be expected…

Throughout the earlier stages of my career, I worked for many people that had very negative management styles – always finding fault rather than providing positive reinforcement. My managers had been my mentors – and as I began the process of analyzing my own management style – I found that I, too, could be overly critical.

Desmond Tutu, a South African social rights activist and Anglican bishop said, “It is through weakness and vulnerability that most of us learn empathy and compassion and discover our soul.” Looking back on the struggles we endured with my son’s health, although it was difficult, I am grateful for the lessons the experience taught me. I learned the importance of having a work-life balance, not only for my own life, but for those that I manage. I also gained a better understanding of the need to be empathetic, supportive and respectful. It doesn’t matter how brilliant we may be. If we cannot motivate and inspire through genuine humility as well as care and respect for people, we won’t be successful leaders in the long run.

Finally, and most importantly, I learned that while we must focus to achieve great things at work, the true gift in life are those who are waiting for us to come home at the end of each day.