What Does it Take to be a Leader? Studies Show that a Difficult Childhood can be a Bonus.

I came across a finding in the Wall Street Journal that highlights some studies about how adversity can actually be a good thing.

The article in the Journal mentioned a story about two brothers who were raised in a home with a father who was an alcoholic. One brother grew up to be an alcoholic and led a very difficult life. The other brother grew up to be very successful and a model parent. When asked how they came to be who they were, they both gave the same answer: “Given who my father was, how could I not?”

The story highlights a key point that’s a little counter-intuitive but has been proven to be true in numerous scientific studies. What’s the key point? That adversity can often be a good thing.

Oprah Winfrey, Howard Schultz, Tony Robbins, and Elon Musk have all overcome difficult childhoods

As you may know, Oprah Winfrey was sexually abused by relatives, Howard Schultz grew up in a housing project, Tony Robbins had a mother who was an alcoholic, and Elon Musk was bullied by friends and his father. And, while nobody would welcome the kind of abuse they suffered, each of them turned their challenges into success later in life.

Here’s a study that supports that point — in the 1960s, Victor Goertzel and Mildred Goertzel studied 400 famous 20th century men and women. Their subjects ranged from Louis Armstrong, and Elenor Roosevelt to Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller. They found that less than 15% of their subjects had been raised in supportive, untroubled homes, with another 10% in a mixed setting. But 75% of the subjects had grown up in families that suffered from poverty, abuse, alcoholism, illness or some other misfortune.

Henry Ford, along with several other highly successful 20th century figures, had a difficult childhood.

In the end, overcoming a difficult childhood can help you in the long run

What does it take to lead a successful life? No matter how you define success — whether it’s a stable family life, material success, great relationships, or a connection to a higher power — studies seem to show that a little adversity can actually be a benefit in the long run. Which means that Nietzche was probably right when he said “…whatever does not kill us may indeed make us stronger.”

Image of Jamie Turner, Motivational Speaker and AuthorAbout the Author: Jamie Turner is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and CEO who speaks about business, digital media, and leadership at events, conferences, and corporations around the globe. He has been profiled in one of the world’s best selling marketing textbooks, is the author of several business books, and can be seen regularly on CNN and HLN. He can be reached at +1-678-313-3472 or via email at Jamie.Turner@SIXTY.Company.

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