Is Resilience on your mind? It’s certainly on ours.
Through our Global Mental Fitness Index we (at Cognomie), know that, not surprisingly, the world is feeling less Resilient right now than it did 12 months ago (pre-pandemic). We have captured data across continents and from thousands of individuals and the data show that, overall, resilience is lower than it was a year ago, declining from 79% pre-pandemic (January 2019) to 56% in early 2021.
Dr Michael Unger writes in the introduction to Oxford University’s recent publication Multisystemic Resilience[i]: “The world is changing faster than ever before. Rapid and unprecedented social and environmental change, accompanied by heightened uncertainties and novel and diverse risks are broadly recognised as a feature of contemporary life… research shows that these disruptions… are triggering new responses and adaptations, but it is also clear that these require profound and transformative action in order to be sustainable and equitable. As a recent special feature of Science observed, “Resilience is on many people’s minds these days”.’
It’s now Summer 2021 and although people and businesses have had a rough ride over the last 12-18 months, many of us are now starting to think about how to ‘bounce back’, how to regroup, refocus and re-energise – and this is why Resilience matters now.
It’s the right time to be thinking about Resilience. As Professor James Hayton, Pro Dean of External Affairs at Warwick University Business School writes: “Only corporates with the right culture will successfully leverage the opportunities presented by the pandemic”[ii].
So, what is this right culture?
We believe it is a culture that is resilient, that bounces back from the tough times, a culture that is agile, creative, innovative and entrepreneurial in how it responds to difficulty.
So, if we acknowledge that resilience has become a business necessity, what can we do to develop this extremely valuable cultural capital?
In this article, we approach the question through the lenses of individual, team and leadership resilience, and in each case reflect on three developmental stages:
- Recognising realities
- Re-grouping around shared purpose
- Innovation to ‘Bounce Back’
Personal or individual Resilience (which we describe as a Foundation of Mental Fitness), is an orientation we take towards what we find personally difficult. It’s an internal capacity, a personal characteristic if you like – something we can take responsibility for and actively develop ourselves (albeit with support from others). As the following example illustrates, it can be an extremely rewarding.
We recently coached a newly promoted middle manager in a large public sector organisational (who we’ll refer to as John, not his real name). The coaching conversation started with a discussion about John’s self-assessed resilience and mental fitness.
John remarked: “I don’t feel very resilient. In fact, I feel drained. It’s been a very long year, my junior colleagues are acting out and I’m trying ever harder to remain optimistic in front of them, but the harder I try, the more they pull away from me. I’m losing confidence and I just want a holiday”.
John brought a high level of self-awareness and openness to his coaching conversation, which helped him identify the specific ways in which he struggled to be resilient:
“I feel like I’ve lost my balance, not because of the environmental difficulties we’re facing, I’m actually really good in a crisis, but because of my own anxiety.”
The difficulty which John felt required his greatest resilience had changed – it had become an emotional difficulty as well as an environmental challenge. John had articulated a new perspective which enabled the coaching conversation to progress into an exploration of his beliefs about himself, what he was trying to achieve and what mattered to him about his work. As the conversation developed, he identified a split between the type of manager he was trying to be (in response to external pressures), and why he had come into the profession and decided after many years to move into a management role.
In the following coaching session, John reported a breakthrough. “It was a simple but powerful insight. I realised that I’d somehow lost touch with what makes me tick, and because I wasn’t coming from this place, my attempts to manage the team felt overwhelming. I really do understand how everyone in the team is feeling, I feel it too. It’s a tough time and I’ve realised that I need to acknowledge that to the team and be in the difficulty with them”.
This insight opened up new ideas about how John could build engagement with and within his team. He had made sense of his own and the team’s difficulties in a new way, he felt less alone and overwhelmed, and he knew what he could do to help himself and his team. He identified the way he could bounce back.
Resilience isn’t only an internal characteristic. We affect other people and they affect us in turn. We co-create our collective perceptions and perspectives, including our responses to difficulty and how resilient we are.
Resilience isn’t only something we develop alone. We are more resilient if we have a strong support network that we know how to utilise and contribute to (a problem shared is a problem halved!).
How then do we build resilience with our team?
As the following example illustrates, it can be a powerful and bonding experience:
In one of our recent Mental Fitness workshops, a well-established operational team reflected on what they found difficult and how they wanted to develop their collective resilience.
Many of the team echoed each other’s sentiments until one person, then another, and then another commented “I didn’t know you felt that way too!”, “Why don’t we talk like this in our team meetings?”, “I feel better already”.
Sometimes it takes an external facilitator and a targeted workshop for us to be able to engage with this awkward question “What do we find difficult?”.
The experience of talking, being heard, and being offered support, builds resilience. It develops the collegiate bonds within a team.
One of the participants remarked:
“When I say it out loud, and hear my colleagues talking about similar difficulties, my difficulties don’t seem so impossible. When it’s outside, in other people as well as within me, it’s easier to recognise and understand why I and we are struggling”
One of the reasons it can be easier to discover how to bounce back when we engage in the challenge together with colleagues, is that the difficulty becomes less difficult – the burden is shared, we remember we’re not alone, our personal insecurities aren’t as significant. It helps, sometimes immensely, when we have colleagues who we can trust, colleagues with which we share common values and goals.
Whilst it’s important to be able to take responsibility for our own resilience, it’s even more powerful when we also hold this responsibility in common with our colleagues.
Leaders who have done the work on their personal and professional development, naturally win the respect of their colleagues, or to put it another way, role-modelling is a fundamental leadership skill.
When leaders model resilience, it has a powerful effect – it builds confidence and optimism and supports a resilient culture in the organisation.
The term Agile Leadership, which is particularly relevant in the current climate, prioritises characteristics which are directly relevant to resilient leadership: receptivity to feedback; investing in quality thinking (and conversations); and adopting an approach in which emotions can be discussed and understood in the knowledge that they are also the foundation of shared meaning and purpose, as well as creativity and innovation.
To illustrate the development of resilient leadership, we coached the Chief Executive of a large multi-national organisation, who we’ll refer to as Jane (not her real name). Jane initially commissioned a block of coaching sessions for her senior team. One of the main themes that emerged from these sessions was a perceived emotional distance between Jane and the companies’ senior management team, who felt empowered in one sense, but hampered because their Chief Executive seemed one step removed from their day-to-day difficulties.
One senior manager commented “I need to demonstrate that I can carry out my own role effective. That comes first, but I also end up supporting others in the senior team at times. But really, I want the Chief Executive to hear some of the difficulties that other team members are struggling with so she can support them rather than me doing it in a half-baked way, particularly when it starts to impact my own performance. The problem is that some senior managers in my team are not speaking up and telling the Chief Executive just how much they are struggling”.
Leaders are always under the spot light. Their behaviour sets the tone of corporate culture, as does their level of engagement with, or distance from, the challenging realities experienced by their junior colleagues. Jane subsequently undertook her own 121 executive coaching, following a review of feedback from her senior management teams’ coaching sessions. In her own coaching she realised that it was the right time for her to demonstrate a resilient leadership response to the difficulties her team had communicated via their feedback. Although it was uncomfortable, Jane realised that she needed to think anew about what her team needed from her. In her coaching conversations Jane recognised a gap which her somewhat distant leadership style had left in the organisation and she thought about how she could move into this gap, specifically: how to enquire, discuss and acknowledge the realities her colleagues struggled with on a day to day basis; how to recognise and celebrate the shared values and aspirations that underpinned the senior teams’ hard work ethic; and how to be more explicitly interested and supportive of the various organisational development projects which members of her senior team led on (particularly those projects that members of her team felt less confident about). Jane realised that she needed to visibly acknowledge the reality of her team’s difficulties, and that this was how she could then participate in ways that would bolster her team’s resilience in moving the organisation forward through a very challenging period for everyone.
How can Cognomie help you develop your Resilience?
Perhaps the most important step we can take in developing a more resilient culture is to be able to recognise when it’s necessary to talk about it and invest in it. The cultural resilience that makes a real difference is a mindset, a characteristic of team work, and a leadership style. Resilience is built on realism, shared values and purpose, and manifests as creative, innovative, agile and entrepreneurial responses to what challenges us. If this is the time for you to think about and invest in your resilience, contact us to start a conversation about how we can help. We can measure, benchmark and track your (individual, team and organisational) resilience through self-perception questionnaires and surveys. Having generated insight and awareness of your current and desired levels of resilience, we can then work with you to develop a bespoke coaching and training package to support you to develop the culture you need to bounce back from the difficulties of the last year, more resilient, agile, creative, innovative and entrepreneurial than ever.