Resilient individuals and leaders recognize that they may not have the answers or the emotional strength to withstand all situations
What does the word “resilience” mean? Setting out to write this article, I asked myself the same question because I’ve found that, having used a word many times over, I intuitively assume a meaning — and sometimes my assumptions turn out to be inaccurate. Merriam Webster Dictionary defines resilience as “the ability to become strong” after a reversal and “the ability of something to return to its original shape” after being pulled or stretched.
Technically, and from a language perspective, this definition is correct. But the word is undergoing a redefinition in psychology and leadership literature. For a long time, resilience was equated with an individual’s ability to bounce back, and thus frequently with crisis. The thinking was that it was a trait you were either born with, or not. There are indications that this is now changing. Certainly, at YSC we are taking a lead in focusing on the “state-like” nature of resilience. With social and technological change challenging us at ever faster iterations, our working world is increasingly defined by VUCA. Each one of us is being tested on a daily basis. Resilience, then, becomes a quality that is required of us all, not once in a while, but almost all the time.
Research suggests that resilience is more than just the ability to bounce back (hardiness), or perseverance (grit). There are actually several inputs/influences that an individual can bring to bear to maintain an even keel through prolonged periods of adversity. Once these factors are known, it is possible to develop them systematically and thereby, develop or enhance resilience. These factors are:
The way you think. Individuals are inherently either optimistic or pessimistic. Optimists demonstrate greater perseverance and are more oriented to finding solutions. They are fortunate in having a positive disposition that enables a stronger, more positive emotional response to adversity. Yet the predispositions we are born with are open to influence: We can develop our sense of optimism and our ability to see possibilities in times of adversity. Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, has developed a programme for the US Army which focuses on building soldiers’ psychological fitness and heightens their ability to deal with adversity.
The support system. Resilient individuals and leaders recognize that they may not have the answers or the emotional strength to withstand all situations. Therefore, they consciously develop support systems that they can turn to at times when they feel overwhelmed, or require support. These could be friends, family members, counsellors, coaches and even pets.
Behaviors and habits. Individuals who demonstrate high levels of resilience have developed ways to enrich mind, body and spirit. They stay physically fit, which enhances their ability to manage and recover from stress. They meditate and practice mindfulness, which helps them manage negative emotions. They develop high levels of self-awareness by keeping a journal and making conscious time to reflect – enabling them to flex and adapt in response to changing dynamics.
The responsibility of building resilient organizations is a new leadership competence that is not, as yet, well-articulated. But it is vital in an ever more disruptive and unpredictable business environment where organizational change is a constant.
Honing their own resilience, articulating success strategies and ensuring these are not just communicated but adopted by other members of the organization has become a key role for leaders. During times of low stress, resilient leaders invest in developing resources (support systems), energizing themselves (habits and behaviours), and training to think positively. Reflection after a crisis enables them to articulate what they have learned from adversity and to identify the adaptive shifts they need to make to become stronger for the next round.
A resilient leader’s checklist
Yoga. Tai Chi. Meditation. Life coaching. Hobbies. Strong, loving relationships. Friends. Family. Exercise. Fitness regimen. Healthy diet. Daily reflection. Journaling. Vacations. Social work. Teaching. Mentoring. Play. Openness to possibilities. Humility. Comfort with changing plans at short notice. Developing confidence and resilience across their teams.