Resilience, it’s not just for marathon runners, it’s not just for elite sportsman, or for politicians in the face of an electoral storm or for people suffering incredible personal challenges. Some of the greatest people in history achieved their personal success by having incredible resilience. You can name plenty I am sure, and so can I, but I won’t because I want to talk about resilience in the context of you and I, the mere mortals.
Have a think back to moments in your life when you felt you were slowly ground into the ground, tripped up in a mid-sprint, on the point of finding that golden nugget when your shovel broke. What did you do, (expletives deleted of course)? Did you throw the towel in?
At some point, you picked yourself up, dusted yourself off and started all over again. That’s resilience and those experiences are the font of all opportunity for further personal development.
So what is this ‘resilience’ thing that we speak of:
the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.
ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy.
I’d like to add to this definition and say that having resilience gives you the ability not only to get bent out of shape and return to your original form, but often to adapt, morphing into a new and improved form – a more learned, experienced and sustainable form.
Why is resilience so important in the workplace, for individuals, teams and definitely for managers and leaders?
The workplace, well, the good workplaces, are places of change. They are about adaption, innovation, flexibility, growth. They are about responding to the market, to clients, to opportunities. These characteristics are all drivers of change. Change is all about rethinking and resetting your reality. For some people this comes easily and naturally and for others this can be very challenging to say the least. However, it’s critical as a manager that you’re able to adapt quickly to change, to reboot your reality, load up some new software, maybe just an update (Peter v1.01) and start processing again as quickly as possible. One minute you’re running alongside your customer/teammate and the next minute you can be flat on your face. You need to have the skills before this happens to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again.
One of the most miraculous examples of resilience to me was the sporting incident at the 1956 Olympic Games involving Australia’s John Landy and Ron Clarke (see below).
“In Australia, Landy is remembered for his performance in the 1500 metres final at the 1956 Australian National Championships prior to the Melbourne Olympic Games. In the race, Landy stopped and doubled back to check on fellow runner Ron Clarke after another runner clipped Clarke’s heel, causing him to fall early in the third lap of the race. Clarke, the then-junior 1500 metre world champion, who had been leading the race, got back to his feet and started running again; Landy followed. Incredibly, in the final two laps Landy made up a large deficit to win the race, something considered one of the greatest moments in Australian sporting history.” John Landy – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Landy’s selfless act, as a team player in an individual event, with so much at stake, beggars belief. But the astounding thing, quite apart from this admirable act, was the resilience shown by both parties, Landy going on to win the race and Ron Clarke picking himself up, dusting himself off and running through to the finish line. Landy’s eye, firmly on the finish line, blocked out all of the adversity that could so easily have been the ultimate demise. Ok, I know I said I wasn’t going to quote the super humans, but I love that example so much, I just had to. Have a look at the grainy old video on Youtube and enjoy the voice of a good Aussie broadcaster.
Life wasn’t meant to be easy
…so said Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser (what a revelation), and neither was business. There will be ups and downs and plenty of them. Fully engaged employees typically display greater resilience because their eye is on the horizon. They don’t necessarily see all the hills and valleys to traverse – instead they travel like a car with great suspension, driving toward that horizon with determination. Resilience is like your personal suspension. It helps you absorb the bumps and potholes along the way, smoothing out the ride and keeping the vehicle in good shape.
Ways to build resilience
One of the key ways to build resilience is to understand where your doubts lie. Each of us has a bunch of personalities all vying for pole position. We need to master keeping the sensible, measured personality at the wheel during times of adversity. Every event in our life shapes our reality. One challenging event can leave us either confident or insecure depending on the outcome. When a similar event comes along, we draw on our library of responses, our own personal Wikipedia, and go about ensuring that history repeats based on our reality. And lo and behold, invariably it does. The trick in building resistance is to break these cycles and to reshape the reality. Edit that Wikipedia entry and put in an outcome that you want. Sometimes it’s as simple as replaying an event and acknowledging that the outcome wasn’t as impactful as you might have imagined it. It’s equally important to replay your successes and make them part of your internal conversation.
The devil in your ear
So if you’re about to – for example – stand up in front of a group and make a presentation, and that little devil on your shoulder is in your ear, telling you every possible thing that can go wrong, stop and face it. Yes, I am suggesting you have a conversation. Examine each of these doubts and challenge your inner voice. Replay past successes and apply them to your doubts. Examine potential outcomes for the real impact that they might have, not the perceived impact. You need to focus on the horizon and accept that there will be bumps and potholes along the way. As a manager, this is how you should manage your team. Work with them to focus the mirage at the horizon (the end goal) from gloom to glory. Ensure you remain positive and focussed with strategies, measures, recognition, communication (all part of your suspension). And stay positive.
Be a Landy
If you’re in a team, then be a John Landy. Keep an eye out for your fellow team members and support them – make sure they know you have their back. Let them know that if they trip and fall, you will be there to pick them up and they can go on and finish the race (and many more afterwards).
As usual, it’s a huge topic, and this is but a small snippet. Take some time to think, now. How can you pick yourself up? How can you help up your teammates who have tripped in the third lap? If you have any ideas about how to encourage this team behaviour, or inspiring anecdotes about teams coming together, share them in the comments section below.