For John Register—a featured speaker at next June’s 4Front Conference—adversity is a form of resiliency training, and now he’s teaching that lesson to others. On a recent 4Front Podcast episode, Register talked about how his life story has taught him how to hurdle the obstacles he’s faced.

Hurdling obstacles is more than just a metaphor in this story. A four-time All-American hurdler, Register volunteered to serve in the Army during the Gulf War, even while he continued training on the track. But while preparing for the 1996 Olympic Trials, the impact from a bad landing after a hurdle severed his popliteal artery. Surgery to repair the damage failed, and when he faced the prospect of an unusable leg, he decided to have it amputated at the knee.

Rather than let the loss of a leg end his athletic career, Register persevered and went on to win a silver medal in the long jump at the 2000 Paralympic Games. Since then, he’s become a noted speaker and corporate trainer, sharing his personal experiences with bias and adversity to help corporations and individuals better deal with challenges.

Register says that the personal trials he’s faced—including early experiences with racism while growing up in Oak Park, Illinois—gave him “that resilience muscle for understanding that, yeah, life can knock you down.” Today, in his work as a corporate coach, he understands that people need to engage in truthful but difficult conversations about issues such as racism.

Take, for example, the fact that many companies today now support the Black Lives Matter movement. “The question I have is, ‘Why is it only now that you’re doing this?’” says Register. “Is it because we’re missing an entire talent pool, or that we’re treating an entire talent pool unfairly? Because what I heard before was, ‘Well, we just want to make sure we’re hiring the best workers. That’s why our organization looks like this.’ What do you mean? Do you mean black workers or disabled people are not the best workers? How do you know? Because there are no minorities on your team. So it becomes the proverbial #OscarsSoWhite problem. We’re choosing only from the people in our sphere to show what excellence looks like.”

Recent studies bear out Register’s observations. An April 2020 study released by researchers at Stanford University’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance found that—as of 2019—just 10 percent of director-level executives of Russell 3000 companies were ethnic minorities. Among new directors at S&P 500 firms, the number of minorities was just 21 percent.

Other research indicates that this may be more than a social obstacle for businesses. According to McKinsey’s 2019 Diversity Wins study of 1,000 companies in 15 countries, organizations in the top quartile, when it came to ethnic diversity, outperformed companies that were the least diverse by 36 percent in 2019. Similarly, companies that had the greatest number of female employees outperformed more male-dominated peers by 25 percent.

Looking ahead to the 4Front conference next June, Register says he’ll probably focus on the idea of using adversity as a tool for growth and share his Fear to Freedom model, which explores how people progress through fear to rebuild and then liberate themselves.

“I’ve found that the redefining moment is the critical piece,” he says. “Are we willing to have the courage to amputate the fear that’s holding us back? We need to release into a rebirth that will give us the resolve to say ‘I’m not going back to what you think. You need to catch up to where I am.’”

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