Resilience: Not for the Faint of Heart

As turbulence and change swirl around our personal and organizational lives, some new findings about how people become resilient are helping to better understand how we can shape this process.

When we mention resilience, we’re really talking about the ability to adapt well to challenging circumstances, keep going in the face of adversity and recover from setbacks. Generally, it’s only when we’re really faced with major obstacles and stress that resilience, or the lack of it, emerges.

work teamGiven that rapid and disruptive change is normal in today’s marketplace, leaders of all types are finding that they increasingly need to strengthen this key attribute. At the same time, they also need to help others in their quest to remain ‘grounded’ despite the winds of change.

All too often, however, many of the leaders that I encounter continue to emphasize the ability to be both deliberate and agile in response to change. Formal change management programs rolled out in conjunction with new organizational initiatives abound with well-defined strategies, actions and tools.

What about the times when things really do go sideways? When there’s no escaping the fact that that success was elusive and something clearly went wrong? And sometimes significantly so – failed efforts, wasted resources, damaged reputations and sidetracked careers. How do leaders help themselves and others through recovery, rejuvenation and re-engagement?

It turns out that a key aspect influencing resilience is how an event is perceived – as either truly traumatic or as an opportunity to learn and grow. Every distressing event, no matter how negative, has the potential to be either traumatic or something else to the person experiencing it. In essence, the experience itself isn’t what makes it traumatic, it resides in the mental model that is built around it. What really matters is whether the experience becomes traumatic in the mind of the participant

As an organizational leader, here are five key things you can do to strengthen your own resilience:

  • Develop your capacity to identify and accept the reality of any given situation. With this information you can better frame your response, both in your own mind and externally with others.
  • Cultivate a strong belief that you, as a leader, have a valuable and meaningful contribution to provide. Strive to articulate your value-add and how it makes a difference to your clients, team and organization.
  • Develop your ability to improvise solutions, on the fly, from what you currently know or can access from others. Recognize that the tried and true is not always going to provide an answer during times of turbulence.
  • Reframe your internal dialogue from internal to external (i.e. I’m totally responsible’ to ‘bad events aren’t necessarily my fault’); from broad to specific (‘this has a huge impact’ to ‘this is only one part in my life’); and from permanent to temporary (‘nothing can be done’ to ‘I can change the situation’).
  • Try to avoid magnifying the impact of incidents into something much larger than they actually are. Reach out to trusted colleagues to get their perspective before framing your own thinking and response.resilient worker

And for your team, here are several suggestions to help build their resilience:

  • Create an environment where both setbacks and successes are treated as positive learning experiences. Encourage a healthy dose of risk taking and when things don’t work out, dig deep to uncover key learnings.
  • Engage meaningfully with the people that you lead, find out how they’ve dealt with key challenges and setbacks in the past. Use this knowledge to coach them through tough situations, reminding them of the approaches they’ve used successfully in the past.
  • Openly admit your own mistakes when they occur, along with your learnings arising from those experiences. When the opportunity arises, be proactive in sharing how you’ve successfully navigated adversity and setbacks in your own career.
  • Encourage team members to strive for a balance in their own lives, recognizing that career is only one element of a full and satisfying life. Cultivating other aspects of life creates ‘firewalls’ to disappointments in the work arena.
  • Provide your own balanced perspective on the actual scope of challenging and adverse situations. Don’t wait until things get out of hand before you speak up. Be realistic in your commentary but recognize that emotions often have a way of creating their own narrative.

To find out more about how to strengthen your team’s resilience, get in touch for a brief conversation: [email protected] or 250-882-8830.

About The Author

Scott Borland, Founder & President of CYGNUS Management Consultants Inc, , is a recognized expert in helping executives host strategic conversations and obtain high impact feedback. He brings insightful perspective and proven strategies to strengthen the alignment between strategy and leadership behaviour. Scott has presented frequently at regional/national conferences and is a regular contributor to online journals/blogs. Follow Scott on Twitter or add him as a connection on LinkedIn.

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