As business coaches, my colleagues and I often deal in the realm of resilience with our executive clients. One of my colleagues, Mike Jay, wrote a great book called Upping the Downside about increasing your resiliency to be ready for anything. It has 64 strategies for creating professional resilience by design. This past summer, my colleague Beth Bloomfield wrote the following piece in her newsletter (A Different Optic) which she graciously said I could share with you:
Resilience: The Fine Art of Bouncing Back
I’ve had several thought-provoking conversations about resiliency recently, and what it means as a leadership quality, so I thought I’d revive an article from June 2003 on the topic. If you read it before – enjoy it again!
As an older and much wiser colleague always used to say, “Nobody goes through life unscathed.” If you live long enough, sooner or later “stuff happens.” Why do some people snap back, while others snap under the stress of unanticipated occurrences? The quality of resilience is very often the determinant of success in work, as well as in life. Studies show that resilience matters more to sustained high performance than education, experience, or training.
In this issue of my newsletter, I’ll explore how you as an individual leader can build your resilience and improve both your performance and your outlook. There are two other aspects of resilience – workforce resilience and organizational resilience – that you’ll want to learn more about if you want to bolster your company to withstand the ups and downs of our 21st century milieu. (Note: You can find two additional newsletter articles on those topics in the July and August 2003 editions of A Different Optic.)
Here’s the dictionary definition of “resilience”: 1.) The ability to recover quickly from illness, change, or misfortune; buoyancy. 2.) The property of a material that enables it to resume its original shape or position after being bent, stretched, or compressed; elasticity.
The important thing to note here is that we are not talking about being unaffected by events and forces in our world, but rather about the capacity to move with them and then reestablish a working balance.
According to experts, the main building blocks of resilience are the capacity to accept reality and stand up to it; the ability to find meaning in life; and the ability to improvise. Other important factors are a strong sense of self; the belief that you are the author of your own life; and the ability to be flexible. It’s an interesting mix of mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual qualities, all of which can be cultivated. My own experience in coaching leaders in a variety of organizational settings confirms the observation.
In their influential book, The Power of Full Engagement, authors Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz build their recommended “Corporate Athlete” personal growth program around those four dimensions. Loehr and Schwartz have researched how winning athletes train for high performance, and they translate their findings into practical strategies for the rest of us. Fundamental to this approach is the idea that you can’t manage time – you only have a fixed quantity — but you can manage the energy available to you, and the quantity and quality of that is not fixed.
We build mental, emotional, and spiritual capacity in the same way we build physical capacity – by expending energy beyond our usual limits and then recovering. So, effective energy management in all domains requires cycles of expenditure (stress) and renewal (recovery) of energy. Building your own resilience means mastering the practice of these rhythmic cycles. Resilient people have developed rituals that help promote cycling – going to the gym at the same time every day, for example, or sitting down to dinner with the family every night.
It’s interesting – hopefully not discouraging – to note, as the authors do, that the demands on today’s executives dwarf the challenges faced by professional athletes. Executives must sustain peak performance while athletes play in relatively short bursts of energy. Athletes spend most of their time training and very little performing – executives just the opposite. Athletes have off-seasons, most executives are lucky to get three or four weeks of vacation. An athlete’s career averages five to seven years, while most executives will work for 40-50 years.
All the more reason to build your capacity to bounce back from the inevitable setbacks, so you can go the distance.
Coaching can help you build your own resilience, and that of your workforce and your organization. You can reach Beth at firstname.lastname@example.org.