Q: What's REALLY required to build resilience. A: it's not strategy!
I was recently interviewed for a post-grad research assignment, subject – resilience – something I am equally passionate and qualified to talk about! Specifically, how effective are workplaces in NZ at developing and implementing resilience strategies in your experience? And which strategies do you feel are the most effective?
I felt really invested in this! My views are borne from four core beliefs:
- Resilience is an overused and misunderstood term
- Resilience is about culture and practice, more than strategy and policies
- Adversity is not only an opportunity for growth, but a requirement for it.
- Resilience and mindfulness are inseparable
LET'S UNPACK THE MISUNDERSTANDINGS
Resilience is commonly referred to as 'mental toughness', taking a chill pill or hardening up. Even ignoring or suppressing feelings.
The truth: it’s taking a soft hearted and mindful approach to how you view life experiences and the attitude you bring to what you find.
Looking for the positive, opportunities, possibilities? “This too shall pass, this is an opportunity to learn and grow, this is what I can control”
Or looking for excuses, looking to blame? “This is going to last forever, it's their fault, this always happens to me”
Resilience is often thought to be the lack of ‘stuff’.
The truth: those with more resilience muscles, have simply been through MORE. It has nothing to do with avoiding the bad stuff or being positive al the time!
Resilience is thought to be something innate, set in stone at birth.
The truth: it's a skill that can be learned and practiced in the workplace. The more we have thrown at us, the more our resilience muscle is strengthened. Resilience is an antidote to stress so as we build up resilience, the context of what stress and pressure are changes too.
CULTURE VS STRATEGY - KNOWLEDGE DOESN'T GUARANTEE BEHAVIOURAL CHANGE
Part of the reason that ‘resilience strategies’ aren’t always effective is because they're coming from a place of misunderstanding.
Add to this the foolish notion that if you have a strategy you're therefore resilient. Just having strategy, policy and training doesn't cut it. If you’ve sat through hours or days of well-intended training you’ll agree, knowledge doesn’t necessarily lead to behavioural change. Ticking the box on a training exercise or (just) having ‘strategies’ or policies doesn’t necessarily mean you or anyone else will ‘do it’. Put bluntly, sometimes, it just means time off work.
Thanks to Peter Drucker, we all know, ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’. And resilience is no exception!
EMBRACING ADVERSITY FOR GROWTH
We can't change what is going on around us. Our external environment is not of our own making and no one and no organisation is immune from the hard stuff. Setbacks, challenges and plans, well, not going to plan, are the norm. This means life is always going to be bumpy, messy and full of uncertainty. COVID is the classic example – one day walking around with takeaway coffee in hand, two days later stuck/safe at home!
But most of us overlook the fact that we can change how we experience life's bumps and messes - by changing our view or awareness of our perceptions of our reality. When we practice resilience, we reframe our perception of setbacks and adversity as opportunities for growth and change. We learn how to create, innovate, and move forward. This means adversity is not only an opportunity for growth, but a requirement for it
I DARE YOU - CREATE A SOFT HEARTEDNESS CULTURE
Our leaders must become mindful leaders to promote a culture of resilience. Which means abandoning the notion we need to harden up, and instead, introduce soft heartedness. It’s not as fluffy as it sounds – it’s about mindful leadership. Resilience and mindfulness ‘practices’ therefore need to become the way of life of our workplace leaders. When the power of role modelling is embraced, there need not even be a strategy or policy in sight!
Quite simply you cannot create (any) culture without awareness because you cannot change that of which you are not aware! And you cannot have awareness without being mindful. Going full circle: this means you cannot ‘realise resilience’ without first ‘being mindful’!
You see, my philosophical stance about life is this: we are all fundamentally connected:
1. No-one is immune to adversity, there is no ‘golden ticket’ promising a smooth ride.
2. None of us is perfect, we’re all imperfectly imperfect
3. We all want the same things in life – love, warmth, belonging, meaning, achievement…
THE ANSWER - MINDFUL LEADERSHIP
When a leader is mindful of these three ‘truth’s, they are in fact ‘practicing mindfulness’ – compassion, non judgement and acceptance. From this soft hearted space and awareness, they can create a culture of resilience.
If employees see their leaders accepting what they cannot control, focusing on what they can control, being compassionate and non judgmental towards themselves and others, (which means admitting when things don’t go to plan for example!) there is space/permission for staff to do the same.
When people are calm, compassionate, resourceful and creative in times of adversity, there is learning, growth and connection. Who doesn't want that?
To build an effective culture of resilience means casting aside strategy and egos in favour of mindful leadership.
Start with awareness: my mission is to help leaders and organisations use adversity to their advantage by going deep into what they pay attention to and the attitude they bring to what they find. To raise awareness of how much control, opportunity, buy-in, creativity and choice they have when they are more mindful. So they can grow as a person, grow as a business and grow a culture of resilience.