“I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refused to be reduced by it.” Maya Angelou
Life is hard sometimes. No matter how you reframe it, repackage it or what lens you look at it through, most of us go through hard times once in a while. Some more than others. And some are blessed with going through life where they have been sheltered from hardship and struggle, but eventually it will come.
Right now, a pandemic is sweeping across the globe and hitting our nation particularly hard, impacting individuals and businesses greater than most anything has in most of our lifetimes. Some have lost jobs as a result. Others have lost loved ones. But human beings are incredibly resilient. We have choices in how we respond to the hardships we are dealt.
For many, these situations bring out the best in people and moving into acts of service to others is how they cope. Countless stories on the news have been shared on how resilient people have overcome these difficult times. For artists and musicians, new beauty is often born out of times of great struggle, pain or grief and becomes inspirational to others. If you haven’t heard Alicia Keys’ tribute song and video “Good Job” that was released in April of this year, watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSUZIFBJHwQ . Essential workers in our country have demonstrated resilience this year like no other group has.
Resilience and Gratitude
The basic definition of resilience is “the capacity to overcome quickly from difficulties.” Some see it as being tough. But it’s more than that. You see graphics of flowers growing through cracks in concrete being a visual representation of resilience. It’s about going through something difficult in life and not only managing to get through it, but really observing the experience in such a way that you allow it to change you. It’s about growing from it and beyond it.
Growth happens in such a way that you learn something that you can apply to a future situation when you experience it again. If it’s profound, it can alter your life in such a way that you end up taking a different path or your view of the world may completely change. In some ways, the more difficult the experience, if you allow it to, the more meaningful the change can be. Because of this, resilient people end up becoming stronger people as a result and better able to cope with additional difficulties. Often times, resilient people become the most grateful of their difficult circumstances.
One of the most resilient people I know is my cousin, Kat. When I need to find inspiration on resilience, that’s who I look to. Kat was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease when she was 48. Her diagnosis came the same year her mom died. She was also busy juggling a career as a midwife and the director of a busy hospital-based midwifery practice.
Fast forward more than five years later and Kat has retired from her career, she has embraced her disease and doesn’t allow it to define her. Instead she’s living life to the fullest and inspiring others along the way. She boxes regularly, travels, is an incredible watercolor artist, hosts events at her home, and she serves as an amazing source of support to her family and friends.
She is actively involved in volunteer work with the Davis Phinney Foundation, she was a speaker at the World Parkinson’s Congress in Kyoto, Japan last year and she’s in the process of writing a book! She’s taken lemons and is making lemonade and serving it to others who need it. I’ve been so inspired by how she has handled this (and other challenges that life has thrown her way).
Kat has always had a positive, yet realistic attitude about life’s challenges and I think that is one of the keys to resilience. I know it’s helped when she’s shared that perspective with me. Almost twenty years ago my sister passed away from a brain tumor. It was a very difficult time for our family and I distinctly recall a conversation with Kat where she and I were laughing through tears. Isn’t that the best feeling?
We agreed we didn’t like that saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” In fact, we agreed we hated it. So, we changed it to: “What doesn’t kill us, gives us more gray hairs.” We both can attest to having plenty of that! And being plenty proud of our resilience. While we would not wish our experiences on anyone, I know we have both developed gratitude for the love of family and how our experiences have come to shape our lives. I’d love for you to read more about Kat’s story here: https://kathill.org/2018/03/01/the-journey-begins/
Leadership and Resilience
For those in leadership positions, how we help those that we lead be resilient can make a big difference in whether our employees continue to be engaged and, consequently, our workplaces thrive. It starts with being resilient ourselves and role modeling resiliency for our staff. Massive organizational change and disruption in workplaces are common challenges most leaders are facing right now. It also means we won’t have all of the answers. We are working in a state of constant change and new information, so getting comfortable with ambiguity is critically important. It’s okay to not have all of the answers. Good leaders are using critical thinking, figuring things out along the way and that’s what matters.
Coaching staff on that same thing and on how to build their resiliency is an important area for leadership focus in today’s environment. Often times staff are afraid to fail. I once read that FAIL = First Attempt In Learning. I often have to remind myself of that because failure isn’t fun. Becoming resilient can often happen as a result of failure if growth and learning occur. We experience something hard and we grow from it. Make the work environment safe for your employees to try. Creating a learning environment is also creating a resilient and innovative organization – one where trial and error is encouraged and both employees and the organization can thrive as a result.
“Only those who dare to fail greatly, can ever achieve greatly.”
Employee Engagement and Resilience
The best way to help build a resilient workplace is to focus on building an engaged workforce. This can be more challenging to do if your workforce has suddenly become virtual as it presents additional challenges for a leader to connect with the employees, but it becomes even more important to do so. According to the Gallup organization, weekly check ins to establish expectations, continually coach and create accountability are key to building employee engagement and a more resilient culture.
It’s even more important for organizations to be investing in their leaders and their development at this time. Great managers provide meaningful feedback to staff which reshapes the way people think and behave in their roles. Having weekly touchpoint meetings can help people reduce worry, stress and loneliness and keeps employees informed about what is going on with the organization.
It also is an opportunity for the manager to check in and see how the employee is doing. This is particularly important if the employee is working virtually from home and may be feeling isolated. These are times when that all-important leadership skill of empathy should be tapped into. Now is the time for kindness, compassion, making the time to engage in dialogue and lots of listening.
Making sure employees’ basic engagement needs are being met is critical at this time: Do they know what is expected of them at work? Do they have what they need to get their work done? Do they feel cared about? Are they feeling appreciated and recognized? Do they feel like they have the opportunity to do their best work?
If managers focus on these items with employees on weekly check in calls, do it in a genuine and meaningful way, and share frequently what information they have about changes that are going on within an organization, even with a workforce that has been forced to suddenly go virtual, this will go a long way to maintaining engagement and resiliency during this challenging time.
Characteristics of Resilient People
Type R: Transformative Resilience for Thriving in a Turbulent World by Ama Marston and Stephanie Marston was first published in 2018 and introduced the concept of something called Type R and transformative resilience (TR). In the book they state, “Individuals who embrace TR are more adept at springing forward because they are emotionally complex. They don’t deceive themselves with positivity; rather, these individuals look for something redeeming in the midst of difficult situations. They shift their focus to a positive outlook more rapidly and they respond to adversity by drawing on a broader range of emotions.”
So, do you have the characteristics of a Type R person? These are the six that are outlined in the book:
Having a Type R mindset is important to thrive in today’s world. Ama Marston talks more about it in the following video: https://youtu.be/wk-gb8EqODw
The book outlines the following specific actions that individuals and leaders can take to develop transformative resilience:
For more details on each of these actions as well as actions organizations can take as well as parents and families can take, I encourage you to read the book.
I think of all of these, my favorite is the idea of creating a failure CV. What a concept! Again, it goes back to the concept of celebrating failure and recognizing that really failure is simply a first attempt at learning. If we remember to take time to reflect upon our failures and learn from them, we can grow as a result. Getting through hard times and embracing the lesson in it, growing from that, and finding the silver lining in the experience is how resiliency develops.
Everyone has a story. Everybody has their share of hardships and that’s why we all need a little grace. And for those who have managed to sail through life without any, the first time they hit one, watch out – they won’t be very equipped to cope with it. So, they are going to need a little grace too. Especially now, during this time of pandemic, quarantines, social distancing, racial and political tensions, in our workplaces and in our neighborhoods…let’s practice kindness and remember…we are strong…we are resilient and we will grow from these times.
And if you didn’t take a pause the first time through and watch the “Good Job” video, here it is again. I’m pretty sure it’ll help give some perspective of the resiliency of the people in our country and the gratitude that we have for many of them this year.
Thank you, Alicia Keys: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSUZIFBJHwQ
Laurie is an experienced Human Resources executive who is passionate about organizational culture, creating great workplaces and employee engagement.