If nothing else, the pandemic of this past year has increased our awareness of the importance of resilience – for individuals, for families and communities, and for business organizations. We are well aware that, in the face of stress and change, some leaders and organizations thrive while others falter and even go under. So, what makes the difference, and what can we learn from this to enhance the way we lead?
Well, the resilience training firm Adaptive Learning Strategies has asserted that, “More than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails. That’s true in the cancer ward, it’s true in the Olympics, and it’s true in the boardroom.” So, just what do we mean by resilience?
Resilience can be understood as the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and persevere in the face of adversity. Resilient people are found to possess three key characteristics: a firm acceptance of reality; a set of strongly held values that provide a framework for meaning; and a notable capacity to improvise when change and circumstances require it.
Importantly for organizational functioning, resilient leaders maintain a clear vision during crisis and help direct the efforts and energies of the organization toward the mission when it may feel like everything around them is on fire. This, in turn, encourages a higher tolerance for uncertainty among the team, and drives perseverance in the face of threat.
So, how do we cultivate and maintain resilience as individuals and as organizational leaders? Let me offer several strategies:
- Let go of the expectation that things should run smoothly, that people should always get along, or that comfort rather than discomfort is the ideal condition for living well. Accept that what is, is your current reality. It is not necessarily good or bad. It is what you have to work with.
- In the midst of crisis, take a deep breath, calm the fear response enough to begin to think clearly. Reflection, rather than reactivity, is the foundation of resilience.
- When you find yourself asking the question, “What am I/we going to do?” – answer it. Weigh your options, invite input from trusted advisors, but lean in and determine a path forward.
- Avoid engaging in the “terrible too’s” – “too much”, “too late”, “too expensive”, “too valuable to lose”, etc. When we think in “too’s” we frame the task as impossible. It may be a lot to deal with, but is it really “too much”? It may be costly, but is it really “too expensive”?
- Maintain personal and team resources by practicing good self-care and good team-care. Stay connected to those in your life from whom you draw strength and support. Eat well. Get enough sleep. You can’t thrive in a deficiency state.
- Maintain your focus on the mission as you have defined it, whether personal or organizational.