‘A man should learn to sail in all winds’ Italian proverb
In more normal times I work with leaders and teams helping them to have maximum impact and results. April 2020 in the midst of lockdown we are mid-storm and I am having to nurture and maintain my own resilience on a daily basis. Experience helps but resilience is not an innate condition. It’s both acquired and developed. Right now, like many people I’m speaking with it feels like I’m spending a lot of time bailing out the boat, trying to fix the sails whilst simultaneously not being sea-sick or falling overboard.
As a soldier serving in the SAS, I was privileged to be a part of a unique high performance environment and for the last 9 years working in leadership consultancy I’ve had the opportunity to observe a wide range of leaders and teams in lots of organizations. What you notice is that the best of them have a lot in common; shared traits, habits, mindsets and again and again, from Olympic teams, businesses and the military, the application of the same principles.
Resilience may be more topical than ever right now as the stark and unfolding reality of a global pandemic on individual lives and businesses breaks over us all. But in truth it was already a key skill and a part of the DNA of the most successful leaders, teams and organizations.
Resilience is simplistically understood as the ability to bounce back from adversity. A somewhat misleading definition, it implies nothing changed, and it certainly does not encompass what you notice when you observe the best leaders and teams – who by definition I would classify as resilient.
To me, resilience is defined as the ability to adapt and sustain performance in the face of adversity. It encompasses all of the physical, emotional and intellectual skills to sustain performance both in the present and into the long-term.
“Resilience is the ability to adapt and sustain performance in the face of adversity”.
A neat definition but it’s important to unpack the breadth of meaning here, firstly so it can be comprehensively understood and secondly because it helps signpost how we can start to think about improving our own and our team’s resilience.
Adversity. An obstacle course of impediments that means business as usual won’t work. As an individual adversity is relative to your own perceptions and beliefs – particularly about yourself. The nature of a challenge may also be chronic, acute or both; in other words, it can play out both in the crisis of a moment and over a period of many months. It could be about dealing with short term pressure – a sports team playing a match or an executive making a pitch or it could be about longer-term systemic changes driven by geo-politics, disease or climate.
Adaptation. Change in order to survive and compete in an altered environment. Fundamentally this about your ability to learn and more than that, your ability to learn relative to everyone else.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”. Charles Darwin
Link this back to the physical, emotional and intellectual dimensions of resilience and we can envisage a dash board giving us the key diagnostic information we need on ourselves or our team. This dashboard works firstly to identify your current state relative to a demanding situation but also allows you to drive changes. The physical, thinking and feeling elements of your performance are highly dynamic and impact against each other. Feelings drive thoughts but thoughts can be made to change feelings. What you’re doing, impacts how your feeling, change what you’re doing and you change how you’re feeling. Each of these dimensions can be expressed in positive and negative terms. High performance, sustaining an optimum state, learning and adaptation all require maintaining positive attributes in every dimension.
Effective resilience is firstly a process of managing your ‘state’, your inner world, in order to gain, re-gain or maintain positive emotion, cognition and action. Secondly, it’s about learning and adaptation. This implies a range of connected skills around situational awareness, analysis, feedback and decision-making.
Linked to the last blog this comes back to winning the day – simple daily routines, disciplines to keep focus and make progress. 1-step 1-day at a time.
There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.
Shakespeare, Julius Caesar Act 4 Scene 3