While some people are born with attributes that move them forward despite setbacks, it’s also true that we can develop resilience through life experience.
In order to get our teams and organizations to function at their peak — and to address the issues we’re facing right now — it’s up to all of us to take a look at our own ability to bounce back from adversity, to overcome and work through challenges, and to use those times to learn, grow, and breakthrough in order to thrive versus just survive.
Resilience is the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change, and the data is in – we are capable of incredible feats during times of duress. In organizational culture, resilience is at the core of a healthy and effective work environment. Resilience means that we can transcend present circumstances by accepting reality and focusing on a positive future.
Let’s begin with a simple model of what builds resilience – it’s all in your relationships:
1. Relationship to self (are you confident, optimistic, and able to manage your emotions?)
2. Relationship to others (do you feel supported and connected?)
3. Relationship to your external environment (how do you interpret the events that happen to you or around you?)
Many people believe that some of us have the ability to thrive under stress, and others don’t; that we’re either born tough or weak, and our circumstances dictate how we turn out. I am a firm believer that we can all learn to be resilient, and our ability to bounce back is not based on our genetics or even our life experience. We all have it in us; we just have to activate it effectively.
The most powerful, effective managers and leaders are those who step up to a challenge and face it with flexibility, courage, and the ability to inspire others to follow them into the unknown. They may not know how strong they are before they are tested, but they have confidence in their ability to prevail.
According to recent research conducted on U.S. soldiers, we have proven that we can handle adversity, get back up, and return to daily life after a traumatic or challenging experience. If we use a bell curve, we can place this large group of people under the center of the bell. At one end of the bell curve, people experience chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They rarely get past the trauma and do not regain their former level of functioning. The other end of the bell curve is what positive psychologists now call “Post Traumatic Growth”. These are people who take their experience and use what they’ve learned to come back better than ever, with new energy. Resilience comes not from what happens to us, but from how we react to what happens to us. It’s true that some people are born with a set of attributes that naturally move them forward despite setbacks, but it’s also true that we can develop resilience through life experience and through conscious practice.
Making challenges into opportunity is simpler than it may sound. The first, most important thing is our mindset. This is basically the lens through which we view everything in our life and work. When we have confidence and optimism, much can be achieved. Whatever our circumstances are, we can look at those circumstances from an optimistic – or pessimistic – viewpoint. It’s up to us!
What we know from positive psychology is that optimism is not something we are just born with, it can be learned. Martin Seligman, popularly considered the “father of positive psychology”, defined learned optimism as the habit of attributing one’s failures to causes that are external (not personal), temporary (not permanent), and specific (limited to a specific situation). So, an optimistic employee will view a poor performance review as an opportunity to learn and grow. The review is seen by the employee as related to a specific situation (this review), temporary (a one-time occurrence), and external (addressing specific work performance rather than a personal attack).
This approach is called an individual’s “explanatory style”. It is how they explain events in the world. Numerous researchers have associated an optimistic explanatory style with better academic, athletic and work performance, better coping skills, less likelihood of succumbing to depression and better physical health. So, what does this mean for building your own resilience in yourself and in your workplace? The first three steps are:
1.) Focus on your own individual strengths.
When we focus, we broaden and build what we focus on. We have a choice – if we focus on what we don’t have, can’t do, or are lacking in, we can broaden and build our feelings of uncertainty and weakness. When we focus on our personal strengths we build our confidence, optimism and positivity.
2.) Build relationships and community.
In a time of increased social distancing and virtual workplaces, we need to be ever more conscious of building a sense of team and our individual trusting relationships. That may mean overcompensating by communicating much more than you typically would and appreciating people as much as possible verbally and in writing. Appreciation goes a long way, even a small thank you for a positive contribution, a good attitude, or a great work ethic.
3.) Watch your words.
The stories you tell are powerful, for good or for ill. If you take this week to focus on what you say out loud and make sure to practice discipline around your “explanatory style” it will make a powerful impact. When you want to complain, think first and reframe that complaint into a request or action. When you want to tell a negative story, reframe it into an opportunity to learn from hardship or difficulty versus collapse under it.
Karlin Sloan is a global leadership and development coach, CEO of Sloan Group International and author of Inspiring Leadership for Uncertain Times.