You’ve recently heard the news about C-suite executives, high-ranking government officials and others who lose their, well…composure… in high stakes situations. It’s difficult to discern cause and effect in those situations, and yet there is compelling evidence that lack of sleep, persistently high levels of stressful and complex decisions and situations, and poor habits of self-care will all contribute to low levels of resilience for any human being.
Resilience is that ability to bounce back and maintain elasticity, and it’s related to all facets of our lives – body, mind, heart, spirit, however you want to articulate your complex self. It doesn’t matter if you are an entrepreneur, celebrity, physician, knowledge worker, executive, parent, leader, follower, or any human being – resilience is a capability that we all need.
Resilience in our bodies means that – through repeated practice – we’ve trained our bodies to recover from injury. Two of the best practices for physical resilience are a thoughtful yoga program and well-designed physical training that suits your goals and capabilities.
Resilience in our minds helps us adjust quickly to the shifting sands of reality – those unexpected (yet inevitable) events that can derail a sound mind if we are rigid and unprepared. Preparation and planning are generally part of what you do at work and in life, and those practices serve a purpose in helping you move forward toward a goal or outcome that you want. If you have planned well for a vacation, for example, a change in weather or an equipment malfunction is easier to manage.
Notice what you are attached to in terms of beliefs and habits, and what you are avoiding. That self-observation will provide you with insights to adapt your way of thinking about a situation that may ease your stress, give you better options and reduce the likelihood of coming unglued in an unattractive, unproductive way.
Resilience in our hearts and spirits protects us against emotional injury and makes recovery faster and easier. Having a strong sense of self-worth, powerful faith/attitude and compassion toward others are all indicators of emotional resilience.
Learning by doing – practicing – through meditation or taking time to reconnect your mind, soul and body throughout the day, can build resilience for the times when you experience a crisis, or when you are under fire for a length of time and you have to show up cool under pressure. Without practice, it will be tough in the moment to wrangle your emotions and physical responses to respond as your best self.
If you want to begin a resilience practice, keep your eye on the word “practice.” As in, “it’s not going to be perfect” kind of practice, the kind of practice that is never truly “done.” As with anything in life, practice leads us to levels of mastery, not willing ourselves. You won’t lose 5 pounds by just thinking about it. You’ll need to reduce your caloric intake and exercise more. That’s the practice.
Like learning anything new, patience is a virtue. Doing even an imperfect practice is much better than no practice. This is on-the-job training at its best, and most of your daily experiences are opportunities to practice resilience – managing a difficult co-worker, establishing a new vendor relationship, calling a plumber to your house on a Saturday night.
One of my mentors, Doug Silsbee, was a pioneer in presence-based leadership. His teachings began simply with a focus on prioritizing time and space each day and creating a goal for your practice. Doug challenged us to ground at least 10 times a day. That means breathing, feeling your feet on the floor and reshaping your posture to settle yourself for a few minutes. Your calendar can be a tool to remind you to practice.
Try to schedule a couple of 10-15 minute walks each day just to clear your mind and reconnect with your body. Notice if you are feeling emotionally triggered and think about why that might be. Jot notes down in a journal and keep track of when you need to practice more in order to avoid being triggered.
Practice often makes for more practice, and the goal is not to be perfect, but to practice consistently in a way that moves you towards more clear and focused thinking, a calmer emotional state and more awareness of how others are responding to you. That in and of itself will build resilience.
Obstacles, distractions and things that get in our way are part of the norm of life, both at home and in the workplace. Recently, my sometimes well-behaved Weimaraner (large, needy and extremely affectionate dog) decided to shred her bed in the middle of the night, leaving the mess for me to discover the next morning when I had no additional time to spare before a demanding client meeting. This is life, right?
How you coach yourself through the obstacles of life can mean the difference between having a meltdown, spinning your wheels, or successfully navigating the obstacle and moving forward. Building self-awareness and being open to not having all of the answers are two tools for working through obstacles, especially at work.
Recently I worked with a client who is facing some very real obstacles to completing a project because of functional silos that exist in their workplace. The walls seem to be pretty tall and thick in some places, and the environment is territorial. You may have experienced this in your own organization. You and your department might even be “those people.”
Working through, around or with obstacles is a lot of what we are called to do in our work as leaders. It could be called problem solving or teamwork or team building or living in chaos, and in today’s VUCA world (the acronym for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous), it is the norm.
Here are a few tips to consider when coaching yourself through these challenges:
A person’s response to stress and change is often a reflection of that person’s ability to adapt and flex – their resilience. Like a little green claymation character, resilient people can change gears gracefully, quickly envision Plan B (and C and D), and keep focused on the end goal despite the detours, road blocks and hazards on the way there.
Leaders who are resilient set a tone for their teams that is confident and reassuring, a tone that maintains progress and productivity even while the sands are shifting under their feet. Conversely, leaders who break rather than bend will find themselves with employees who are confused, frustrated, perhaps even fearful - but not productive.
However you show up as a leader, whether it’s calm or frenetic, assured or afraid, focused or overwhelmed, your team will become a reflection of you. Stress can be contagious, as can resilience and humor and all other behaviors that we bring to our work. Showing up resilient gives your followers the confidence to resist panic, the inspiration to stay on task, and the motivation to remain committed to the goal.
Resilience is a practice and a shift in mindset. We often attribute drama in the workplace to those who are not resilient. That ability to weather a storm, bounce back from a failure, and be calm in the midst of a storm are characteristics that define unflappable, resilient leaders. They manage stress, chaos and discomfort as just part of the job, and they take the time to practice those things that build resilience, such as disciplines around taking care of themselves, managing their priorities and establishing boundaries around their work and their relationships.
Resilience is finding a center of gravity and strength from which to operate in a consistently changing complex and complicated work environment. Knowing you can bend and being willing to be uncomfortable are highly stabilizing characteristics of strong leaders.