Sundays are “Breakfast with Music Time” (Could be Arcade Fire, or Keith Urban, or Tamar Braxton, or Mogwai, or any variety of other eclectic stuff I listen to every day, but those are stories for another day). This week I’ve been thinking a lot about what it takes to be a resilient person, a resilient leader. Sunday morning, there was Ringo from the Beatles, belting away “I’ll get by with a little help from my friends”. What song could be a better anthem for resiliency?
Why resiliency? Last year I wrote about employer brand and candidate experience. Subsequent conversations with friends, family and clients made me realize organizations, and employees, and people, need more than a strong brand and the intent to engage and create a positive experience for employees and potential talent. We need resilient organizations with flexible, resourceful leaders to create the most productive work culture for people.
Most organizations make a plan and figure that will get them where they need to go. But much of the time things don’t go according to plan, and people lose heart and focus. Employees start asking the same questions every day, betraying their unease and uncertainty. Leaders may parrot the same answers every day, telling people it’s just the way it is, get over it. But it’s not enough, and the organization and its people will ultimately falter.
We all need to believe that things will be ok, that tomorrow or next week or next year will be better. And we need an organization that makes it possible to believe, one that makes it possible to keep working hard. We need a resilient organization. Uncertainty is the enemy. Many people are talking about what it takes to be resilient: Michael Ballard, for example, has looked deeply into why some people encounter a setback and go on to thrive while others falter and fail to progress. His experience is an exercise in choice: we can choose to progress, or through fear or uncertainty become stuck. I’ve benefitted from Michael’s wisdom in my struggles to understand why my dad is trapped in Alzheimer’s, and to find some way to come to terms with it and move forward. In that process I’ve realized we can all benefit from a set of coping skills. These work for CEOs, HR managers and employees of any level: we all need the same set of coping skills.
1. Realize it’s not all about you. Sometimes bad things happen to good people, as Harold Kushner wrote. Agonizing over why bad things happen is the fast track to being stuck. Resilient people, and organizations, know how to adapt to bad things by reframing negative experiences. You are not responsible for everything that happens. A bad quarter is the work of an organization, not an individual. Disease is a process, not a judgment. Know which errors are yours and correct them, but don’t project them onto other people, and don’t hold yourself responsible for every bad thing in your life.
2. Control what you can, and don’t beat yourself up for what is beyond your control. I cannot control the disease that is devastating my dad, but I can control how I respond to it, and how I help my family cope. I can choose to be a victim, or I can choose to survive and thrive while supporting my family. Not a difficult choice, is it?
4. Think positive. My dentist once told me I needed a root canal and then handed me a book of positive affirmations. Better than nitrous? No, but it did help reframe the problem: it was a simple solution to a fairly straightforward problem. (Dentists please take this as intended.) The point is bad things, especially in the workplace or in your career, are seldom life threatening. Learn to see them as an opportunity: if someone doesn’t like your presentation, you can choose to learn why, and at the same time realize it was a reaction to one piece of work, not a judgment on your entire professional life.
We all have the choice to be trapped in the present bad thing, or to learn from it and rebound. Sometimes it seems too difficult to choose; there’s something compelling about being a victim of circumstances. But passivity is a trap. Resilient people, resilient leaders, and organizations, take action, own what’s theirs, and learn from the rest. Choose to bounce back. Choose to learn. Be resilient. Stay true to you and the people who believe in you.
A version of this post was first published on Forbes on May 4, 2014
photo credit: Ascent Magazine Atos Thought Leadership – Caught in the web via photopin (license)