January 21, 2011
Posted by Joan V. Gallos
If resilience is an essential leadership skill, as I discussed in an earlier post, how do we build our capacity for it? As someone for whom resilience doesn’t come naturally, I’ve thought deeply about the question. Five suggestions from my musings:
Start with what we know we can control or change – ourselves. It is easy in frustrating situations to hope that others will change. We know from research that’s a common, first response for all of us. But we have the most influence on the change process when we focus on changing ourselves, our responses, our ways of framing a situation. This is not to say that we should cocoon, pull back, and not express our preferences or work to influence challenging or ineffective situations for the better. It is more a question of how, when, and why we do that intervention work – and a reminder that we stand a better chance of influencing others when we know what we want and when we are trying patiently and openly to make things work.
Embrace our control over our full range of choices and options. It’s easy to feel stuck – as if there’s only one way out of a sticky situation or only one way to understand it. It’s harder to think of options and alternatives. Resilience comes from being a stronger and broad thinker – no one trick pony – and from having the confidence in knowing that we can, even under the most stressful of conditions.
How do we develop those cognitive capacities? Practice them. Be playful. Take a minute now and then to ask simple questions like, so what else could I do now? What other options do I have? How else could I respond? What else is possible? What are five different reasons to explain why someone is now acting as he or she does? Once we get into the hang of it, these kinds of experience-broadening questions become second nature. They enable us to see a bigger, richer, and brighter world.
Learn to reframe and do it often. Reframing is the process of standing back and deliberately looking at a situation from multiple angles and perspectives before jumping to the conclusion that you know what’s really happening (for you and for others). Reframing is an especially important skills when we feel high stress, anger, anxiety, or other deep emotions. That’s when we regress to our most primitive thinking and knee-jerk responses.
If I tell myself I’m stuck, I am. If I say that I’m lost or overwhelmed, I will be. When I believe there is an opportunity, it’s always there.
When driven blindly by feelings, we react. It may feel good to settle, vent, or blame, but for what purpose? Professionals have confidence that they know how to respond. The difference between reacting and responding is huge. It’s the stuff upon which great careers are made. What are the stories that you tell yourself in the face of frustrating situations? Try an alternative framing, and you’ll see your mood lighten and your options grow.
Need a primer to enhance your reframing skills? Try Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership by Lee Bolman and Terry Deal. Expanding the frameworks that you bring to make sense of social settings gives you a leg up in perfecting your reframing skills.
Accept the reality that not everything is equally important. This sounds trite and obvious, but think about how often you have gotten yourself into a major stew over the small stuff. We all do it — and more often than we like to admit.
Despite what many of us have learned from well-meaning teachers and sports coaches, not everything is worth doing well – and some things are not worth doing at all.
Sure there are consequences to our choices. Choose not to do something, and you’ve missed an opportunity. This is where knowing yourself comes in.
What’s really important to you? Where do you not want to miss out or not make a mistake? What are the issues or areas in your life where you can cut yourself some slack? Let go? Be less perfect? Punt without shirking your responsibility to others?
That’s the essence of resilience and the key to managing work-life balance and overload – and you hold the key to all that. As you climb the hierarchy with increased responsibility over your career, you will never be able to do everything – and you’ll never be able to do all that you do perfectly. How can you learn to accept that in yourself? How can you use your supports and resources to share the load? Build networks of trust? Delegate? That’s not easy for people with high expectations and needs for control, but it’s essential.
Laugh. A good sense of humor is mandatory for a long life and a strong career – and that means laughing at yourself, your mistakes, your flat spots, and your foibles. It’ll help keep things in perspective – and you’ll have a better time.