How Leaders Create Resilience

The definition of resilience: the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.

Building resilience is a hot topic. Not only would we like people to be more resilient so they have better well-being as people, but also so that they can do their job better - so that they can take setbacks and keep working, with motivation, toward their goals.

So what’s the greatest way we can contribute as leaders? There are plenty of workshops on how to develop resilience as a skill, but these are merely an entry into the conversation. Really building resilience has more to do with the lessons we learn and the challenges we face every day.   

Mental and Emotional Habits

We all have our own emotional habits - and our own coping mechanisms - which help us rationalise and deal with day to day life. Some of those habits are helpful, like when I tell myself to calm down and not be so reactive to someone’s annoying habit. But some aren’t so helpful and sometimes these unhelpful habits undermine resilience.

Some of the typical mental and emotional habits that destroy resilience are the stories we tell ourselves in the face of adversity.

Stories like:

There’s nothing I can do to make this better

This (situation) is going to destroy my day (week, month, year, life)

Failures are bad

I’m not good at this

You will personally know people who have these stories as their ingrained ‘habits’ to adversity. You will also know other people that have very different habits. They say things like “I’ll be better next time,” or “it’s not the end of the world.”

So how do we change? Usually, we need someone to help us - to be reminding us of the habits that we should have, versus the habits we currently have.

That’s where leaders come in.

Three Ways to Build Resilience in your Team

1. Let people fail.

In the countless workshops that I have run on high performance and managing emotions, one job type consistently shows a capacity for resilience: Sales. Why? Maybe because they have the personality to cope with rejections, but just as likely, because they get conditioned to rejections. They get used to failing.

Too often we come to the rescue of our staff - fixing their problems, reverting their mistakes. Or even worse, we leave them with tasks that they are competent in and keep the more difficult things for ourselves. But what if we let them fail more often?

Remember - resilience is defined as “the capacity to quickly recover from setbacks.” If they never experience setbacks, how do they ever learn resilience?

Let people fail, but also do these things:

2. Reward Good Mistakes

For most people, a mistake is a mistake and perceived failure is a failure. After this happens, they run those emotional stories on repeat until it paralyses them from action.

But, there is a huge difference between good mistakes and bad mistakes. Bad mistakes are failures of attention, making the same mistakes a number of times, or poor quality from not caring. Good mistakes are where people try something new or hard or innovative and don’t get it right. We should celebrate those mistakes.

In doing this, we show people that it is ok to fail. We also show people that there are things that we can learn from good mistakes to make us eve better.

Do this enough and we change those habits. Mistakes are no longer mistakes. And the new story becomes “how can I learn from this” instead of “I’m not good at this.”

3. Help People Love the Process

Every high performer I have ever worked with loves the process. They love the journey.

People who lack resilience feel like the outcome is the answer. And when they don’t get the outcome they need, they get paralysed, and the only thing that makes them feel better is their emotional routine.

What if we could create new routines?

Understanding the process of achievement for anything is key to replicating that achievement. But it also has the added benefit of pulling us out of our emotions. Positive action is the cure for emotional turmoil. When people can identify the next positive action they can take, it pulls them out of their paralysis and helps them move forward. To keep on working toward what they had hoped to achieve.

These are three really simple things that we can do as leaders to create more resilient team members. Don’t rely on a workshop or an article to help people learn resilience. The only way we change habits - including mental and emotional habits - is to consistently challenge them and create new habits. And THAT is part of our job as leaders.

** Tony Wilson is a Workplace Performance Expert. His insights into performance science and it's application in the workplace will make you re-think the way that you approach leadership, culture change, high performance and productivity. Tony has an MBA and a BSc majoring in physiology and delivers workshops and keynote presentations around the globe.

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