January 19, 2011
Posted by Joan V. Gallos
In my leadership teaching, students regularly ask what it takes to lead well. The list is long, but at the top is resilience.
Resilience is the ability to adapt and strengthen in the face of challenge, trauma, or stress. It is a learned skill that strengthens with use. It includes steps like:
- recognizing that you always have a choice in interpreting and responding to events (even when you feel you don’t)
- learning to keep things in perspective – for most situations, good enough is indeed good enough
- looking for creative ways to make challenges work for you (and not add to your burdens)
- practicing new behaviors and responses, and
- reflecting on how well your choices and behaviors are working for you.
Think about a recent challenging situation. How’d you do on agility and creative flexibility? How, for example, did you frame the event? Did you see it as disaster? Opportunity? End of the world? Little bump in the road? Major trauma?
How did your framing fuel your reactions? Enable you to understand what was really troubling you?
How quick were you to think of creative options to make the situation work for you (beyond blaming other, remaining furious, or asking others to reduce your misery – or getting mad when they wouldn’t)? How easily did you let go of the angst? Do you see any similarities between your strategies in that situation and in others at work or at home?
We can never control the demands of others – and as much as we’d like demanding others to make the world right or simpler for us, they often can’t or won’t. But we can control how we understand, frame, and respond to their demands. And sometimes just remembering that is enough for us to take a step back and a deep breathe, to recognize that we have control over how we interpret events despite our frustration, and to think creatively about how to turn a crummy situation into something good – or at least something manageable.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus and founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at U-Mass Medical Center, has a wonderful reminder about life: You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.
That spirit, sense of personal agency, and confidence are the core of leadership effectiveness – and make for a happy professional (and personal) life, too.
It’s easier for some to approach life and work this way than for others, but we can all get better at it. It let’s us live more complex lives gracefully; and it’s less costly to body, soul, and relationships than the anger, fury, blame, and angst in expecting others to make the world the way that we want it.
Resilience at its core involves learning to “wear life loosely.” We’re more creative problem solvers when we do.