Management by Coaching
By Kimberly Paterson, CEC
THE POWER TO GET ON WITH IT
The growing importance of training for resilience
Casey was the firm’s latest sales hire. New to the business, she was a quick study and a hard worker who’d passed her licensing exam with flying colors. Despite her outgoing personality and other strengths critical to sales success, her manager had serious doubts about Casey. Two months ago, she lost an account she was confident of winning. Despite numerous pep talks urging her to let it go and move on, Casey wasn’t bouncing back. Her new business calls and pending proposals were down significantly, and she was spending more time in her cubicle, wearing her headphones and avoiding interaction with her colleagues. Casey couldn’t get over the loss.
More than experience, more than raw talents or training, resilience is a key determinant in who succeeds and who fails.
While extremely bright and talented, Casey lacked resilience—a critical quality for success. Rather than focusing on what she could learn from the loss and using that insight to work smarter next time, all Casey could see was her failure. Based on a single experience that she interpreted as devastating, she was convinced that she was not cut out for a career in sales.
Why resilience matters
Resilient people bounce back from adversity; they don’t waste time wallowing or dwell on failure. They view difficulty as a challenge, not as a paralyzing event. Resilient people acknowledge the situation, learn from mistakes, and move forward. They’re not afraid to take risks. Equally important, they have the flexibility to adapt to new and different situations and shift gears when things don’t go as planned. In today’s high stress, hyper-competitive and rapidly changing business environment, these are must-have attributes for employees.
Resilience comes naturally to most human beings. It’s what helps ensure our survival as a species. When it comes to the level of resilience, though, we’re not all created equal. Dr. Martin Seligman, who is considered the father of Positive Psychology and an expert on the topic of resilience, explains it this way: At one end of the continuum are the people who fall apart and into a deep depression, even suicide as a result of trauma. In the middle are most people, who at first react with symptoms of depression and anxiety but within a month or so, by physical and psychological measures, they’re back where they were before the trauma. On the other end of the continuum are people who show post-traumatic growth. They too, at first, experience depression and anxiety but within a year they’re better off than they were before they experienced the trauma.
In demand but in short supply
The bad news is that a declining level of resilience is becoming a serious problem for universities, and now business, as Millennials and GenZs comprise an increasing percentage of the workforce. In a recent Psychology Today article, university administrators reported “a disturbing decrease in the ability of young people to manage the everyday bumps in the road of life.” Statistics indicate that the number of emergency calls to campus counseling have more than doubled over the past five years. Students are increasingly seeking help for, and apparently having emotional crises over, problems of everyday life. Examples mentioned included a student who felt traumatized because her roommate had called her a “bitch” and two students who had sought counseling because they had seen a mouse in their off-campus apartment.
Administrators quoted in the article also say that these “less resilient” students are shaping and lowering academic standards. Students are afraid to fail; they do not take risks; they need to be certain about things. For many of them, failure is seen as catastrophic and unacceptable. As a result, faculty have become afraid to “challenge students too much.” Some admit to being afraid to give low grades for poor performance because of the subsequent emotional crises they would have to deal with in their offices.
More and more people are coming into the workplace without the mental toughness needed to thrive. The reality is that many of the life skills and attitudes required for success, that used to be taught at home and in school, are increasingly becoming the responsibility of businesses.
Why some people are resilient while others struggle
Three factors play an important role in a person’s level of resilience. The first is locus of control. Locus of control is the degree to which we believe we have control over the outcomes in our lives. People with high levels of resilience tend to have an internal, rather than an external, locus of control. They see themselves in the driver’s seat and believe their abilities and efforts ultimately determine their success; whereas, people with an external locus of control attribute their success to factors outside themselves.
The second is a person’s explanatory style, which is how people explain setbacks to themselves. The three “P’s” of explanatory style are permanence, pervasiveness and personalization. People with high levels of resilience see bad events as temporary, not permanent. For instance, they might say, “My boss said I did a bad job on that proposal” rather than “My boss never likes my proposals.” Resilient people don’t let a setback or failure in one area spread into other unrelated areas of their lives. For example, they would say, “I’m not good at talking to people I don’t know” rather than “I’m not good at anything.” People with healthy levels of resilience don’t personalize or blame themselves when bad events occur. Instead, they see circumstances as the cause. They might say, “I didn’t get the support I needed from my carrier to land that account” rather than “We lost that account because I can’t do my job.”
A realistic view of their circumstances is the third factor. The conventional wisdom is that resilience is closely linked with optimism. But that only holds true when optimism doesn’t distort a person’s sense of reality. Unfounded optimism can be a quick road to failure. But when persons truly grasp the reality of their situation, they can prepare and act in ways that allow them to endure and ultimately succeed.
Five steps to building more resilience in your people
More than five decades of research reveal a lot about how resilience works. Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone. As a manager, there is a lot you can do to build resilience in the people you lead.
- Create opportunities for people to struggle and fail. Resilience is like a muscle. You can’t develop the muscle if you don’t use it regularly. Start small by choosing situations where the stakes are not high in terms of financial loss or loss of face for the individual. Select assignments that are challenging, where failing multiple times is an inevitable part of ultimately solving the problem. Over time, people begin to realize that failure is not fatal and that working through it is part of getting them where they want to go.
- Reframe. One of the central elements of resilience is perception. Do we see things that go wrong as traumatic or as an opportunity to grow? People with low resilience tend to experience adversity as traumatic. Even small insignificant events can be traumatic for them as they play what they see as a negative experience over and over in their head. Rather than dwelling on what happened and giving it power, help the person shift gears by looking at the situation from the perspective of what they can learn.
- Challenge catastrophic thinking. People with low levels of resilience are often prone to catastrophic thinking. Their brains seem to gravitate to the worst that could happen. When you see this kind of thinking, let the person talk through the worst case scenario, but then ask them what the best case scenario might be, and then ask what the most likely case scenario would be. Thinking through the possibilities will help them develop a more realistic assessment of the situation.
- Surface the icebergs. Icebergs are fixed and frozen ideas about the world that we hold deep within us. Examples include: “I should succeed at everything I put my mind to,” “Only weak people can’t solve their own problems,” and, “If I want something done right, I need to do it myself.” These deeply held beliefs cause people to over-experience certain emotions and under-experience others. Emotionally resilient people feel it all, but they feel those emotions at the appropriate time and to the appropriate degree. Less resilient people tend to get stuck in one emotion and pattern of thinking, which causes them to miss critical information and compromises their ability to respond productively to adversity. When you see people caught in this pattern, surface the iceberg and get them to challenge it. Useful questions include: “Is this always true,” “Is it accurate in this situation,” “How can you know that for sure,” and, “Is that thinking useful to you?”
- Encourage recharging. Resilience comes and goes. It is a continual calculation: Which side of the equation weighs more, the resilience or the stressors? The stressors can become so intense that resilience is overwhelmed. The key to maintaining high levels of resilience is trying hard, then stopping, recovering and trying again. The more time people spend in the high-performance zone, the more time they need in the recovery zone. It’s important to create a work environment that supports recovery, which means rest for the body and the mind. That doesn’t just mean taking time off from work. Getting riled up about politics on social media or fighting with your contractor about the kitchen you’re renovating don’t count as recovery time.
Worth the investment
Resilient employees have the capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses and build relationships. They have solid goals, and a desire to achieve those goals. They are better problem solvers who believe in their own ability to succeed. Their resilience gives them the flexibility they need to adapt to a constantly changing world.
Resilient people are the lifeblood of a thriving business. Screen for resilience when you hire for any position. Make resilience one of the core skills in your training program. Create a learning culture that sees failure and adversity not as setbacks but as powerful tools for improving performance.
If you’d like to screen yourself or a potential employee for resilience, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free assessment tool.
Kimberly Paterson, Certified Executive Coach and Master Energy Leadership Coach, is president of CIM (www.cim-co.com). CIM works with organizations and individuals to maximize performance through positive lasting behavioral change. Her clients are property/casualty insurance companies, agencies, and brokers. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Follow Kimberly on www.linkedin.com/in/kimberly-paterson and twitter.com/CIMChangeMinds.