Sacrifice Opens Door to Opportunity for a Leader

You need not to have been on this planet very long before you will encounter adversity. One popular adage states that we become stronger by going through tough times. Yet, not everyone who encounters obstacles is able to surmount them and achieve success. In Obstacles Welcome, Ralph de la Vega recounts his own “pivot points,” born of a challenging early life that shaped and molded him into a very successful businessman (currently, he serves as the President and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets. His positive responses to adversity formed the backbone of a successful values-based management system.

Rather than seeing separation from his parents at the age of four as a bad omen, de la Vega found a way to accentuate the positives in his life. He innately recognized that dwelling on negative thoughts and feelings was counterproductive. After that tough, early life challenge, he moved to Miami and had to overcome a language barrier in the classroom. He adapted again to his environment instead of letting it get him down in the dumps. 

Many people tack a passive approach to setbacks. They hope, wait, and some earnestly pray for a change in circumstances. The course our example provides, though, is one of planning, taking risks, and maximizing opportunities. In the book, he offers up the premise that obstacles should be embraced as a chance for personal growth. In the midst of living life, we come across those “pivot points” personally and professionally that define us–for good or bad. Getting in the right frame of mind can be achieved through his recommended 8 step process:

1. Hope is not a strategy. It is necessary to plan for success.
2. To achieve big goals and dreams, it is necessary to take calculated risks.
3. Big wins in life come from an ability to recognize opportunities. The most significant and important opportunities lie in problems that are waiting to be solved.
4. Embrace and overcome obstacles. Obstacles and adversity make stronger, wiser, and more capable leaders.
5. Be willing to unlearn old habits and relearn old lessons from life experiences.
6. Building winning teams involves effective, honest, and open communication.
7. The greatest successes always involve willingness to make sacrifices.
8. Leadership is not something inborn, but learned and practiced.

As a young executive at  Bell South Latin America, de la Vega experienced everything from military insurgency, economic meltdown, and political revolution, in addition to unstable markets, lack of uniformity in corporate leadership, and nonexistent profits. How did he respond? He took a chance and embraced the challenges as opportunities to lead an entire sector of the international communications market into profitability. What he advocates is to “become comfortable with being uncomfortable,” In order to do that, we may have to set aside what we feel we already know and become flexible in our approach to the challenges set before us.

A key habit to learn is to not allow the past to hinder the future. That is not to say, however, that our past(s) cannot be instructional. Previous experiences can help us deal with new situations only by using them to look backwards and forwards at the same time. It is important to think about how what we have done before might be useful down the road
in similar situations.  

Finally, de la Vega describes what he terms an “Extraordinary” leader, one who is able to consistently deliver excellence in all aspects of personal and corporate leadership. To achieve such status, a leader needs to do the following:

• Set the direction, create the vision.
• Establish values and lead by them.
• Select strategies and key initiatives.
• Build plans to achieve vision.
• Establish goals, priorities, and focus.
• Establish key metrics to measure progress.
• Align and inspire people.
• Empower and enable people to achieve vision.
• Create winning culture.
• Select, recruit, and develop other leaders.


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