What do You do when the Career Punches Come?

Boxer Getting Punched in the Face

The ability to receive feedback, even when it’s critical, and bounce back from adversity are just two of many characteristics that make for a great leader. How many of these traits do you possess?

Today’s post is by Tim Cole, author of The Compass Solution (CLICK HERE to get your copy).

Here’s an interesting litmus test to apply to the headlines as you sip your coffee this morning or watch the evening news tonight. If you look for it you’ll see a common strain. Someone somewhere will be under attack, criticized for a failed policy, facing an indiscretion that has come back to haunt them, or for making a misstatement that is now being roundly assailed in the media.

Someone once said that the essence of story is and always has been conflict. If that’s the case then the daily news is the petri dish for great stories because it is rife with conflict.

I grew up in the corporate world and made my career there. I learned a thing or two about conflict and how to survive it. I learned even more about people and what distinguished a limited few from the masses when it came to how they dealt with adversity or more specifically, criticism.

Here is the insight I eventually gained (and unfortunately this was not an overnight process.)

Everyone is at their best when they dictate the game. Far fewer are effective when the game is being dictated to them. Said another way, if you really want to know the character of an individual, watch them when the bright lights of scrutiny, criticism, or adversity are being directed toward them.

Many lose their way then. I liken it to the same phenomenon I see in combat sports like boxing and mixed martial arts. The offensive dynamo that withers when the opponent punches back often suffers from what experts describe as the proverbial “glass jaw” meaning that part of the cranium shatters when it’s tapped very hard.

It is very, very real in the business world and I suspect in most careers. That poet laureate Mike Tyson might really have said it best: “Everybody has a plan until they get hit in the face.”

I’ve seen it in leaders at every level and in employees of every type and eventually coined the term, the Iron Jaw Seven to distinguish the truly resilient career travelers from the masses. The characteristics that distinguished this amazing minority are:

– The ability to offer and to receive feedback

– The capacity to ask questions and to seek to understand

– The willingness to entertain differing points of view and in fact, encourage it

– The flexibility to change, moderate, or adjust game plans that fall outside of the normal approach

– The willingness to accept push-back from the people that work for them or with them

– The drive to stand up when a crisis emerges that threatens personally and in those times, to demonstrate what real leadership is all about

– The capacity to get off the canvas when knocked down and use the lessons learned to become even better

The flaw of the glass jaw is very real and is not limited to leaders on the national stage or the principals in today’s headlines. I’ve watched talented performers in the business world who grew so enamored with their talents that opposing views couldn’t be tolerated. The response was defensiveness, resistance, or outright aggression.

Said another way, they couldn’t take a punch.

If you have embarked on your own career journey I would submit you have already encountered a few “glass jaw” colleagues or formal leaders. They are, and always have been, out there.

The really compelling question for all of us is how well do we absorb the left hook that takes us off stride? The weakest collapse. The next level blindly strike back. But the greatest demonstrate the agility to not just react, but to strategically respond.

You either build your ability to take a punch or you extinguish it by how you interact with others. The very best generally have cultivated two skill sets beyond all others: the capacity to listen and the willingness to respond to the lessons gleaned. There are a lot of career posers but not many Iron Jaw Career Athletes.

The Compass Solution

Tim Cole is the founder and CEO of The Compass Alliance. His book, The Compass Solution: A Guide to Winning Your Career (CLICK HERE to get your copy) offers practical direction to both senior leaders and employees on how to cultivate a rich culture – and ensure a significant work experience. You can learn more at

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Photo: 03/02/2012 Venky’s Mumbai Fighters 4:1 Bangkok Elephants by WorldSeriesBoxing

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