To consider resilience in business is to acknowledge that things are not always going to go well, despite the best efforts of all involved. This may not be what a CEO wants to contemplate. But being realistic about the ups and downs of business is preferable to the alternative.
What does resilience entail? Let’s start with the psychological approach, courtesy of the American Psychology Association on psychcentral.com: “Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences. … Being resilient does not mean that a person doesn’t experience difficulty or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common in people who have suffered major adversity or trauma in their lives. In fact, the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress. 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.”
The last part of that definition — that anyone can learn and build up their sense of resilience — may be encouraging for CEOs as they prepare for the challenges ahead. Here’s a look at ways to achieve resilience along that journey.
Understand the impact
An Australian firm named Springfox (formerly known as The Resilience Institute) recently released a global report on business resilience. More than 26,000 professionals were surveyed over six years, and Springfox declares why at the start of the report: “The current reality is a world of increasing uncertainty. Globalization, disruption resulting from technological advances, and geopolitical shifts put people under increasing pressure and strain. The persistent change in the world and the pressures on us to transform and adapt require agility. In a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, resilience becomes a strategic asset.”
Among the findings from the report:
- 55 percent of those surveyed “worry excessively”
- 50 percent describe themselves as “hyper-vigilant”
- 45 percent say that they have “distress symptoms”
- 30 percent have “impulse control problems”
- 35 percent say that they are unable to relax
- 30 percent report that they experience “excessive work intensity”
In a press release about the report, Springfox CEO Stuart Taylor says that the results show that “the state of the modern workforce isn’t conducive to organizations being as innovative, adaptive and successful as they could be. This is an anxious and overloaded workforce that suffers from absenteeism, presenteeism, conflict and attention loss. Resilience in an organization works to mitigate against these issues. Fortunately resilience is proven to be a learned quality that can be taught.”
Past experiences play a major role in how business leaders handle challenging scenarios. When it comes to resilience, this may not mean “what to do,” but “what not to do.” As Lolly Daskal writes for Inc.com, “Don’t try to solve problems with the same thinking that created them.”
“Resilient people do not make the same mistake again and again,” Daskal says. “They’re willing to be honest about why they failed and they take the time to think about what didn’t work.”
Understand the different forms
There is more than one kind of resilience to consider. In a story for Forbes, Daniel Newman explains that business resilience involves technology and systems. Cultural resilience, he says, is essential and challenging.
“It is the ability to maintain composure and an effective business image regardless of the situation,” Newman writes. “For example, remaining optimistic and eager after a technological flop speaks volumes about the mindset of your business. Cultural resilience is much more difficult to develop than business resilience. It’s easy to download new software but much more time consuming to change mindsets and outlooks. Being able to cultivate this type of company personality is very rewarding — and effective.”
As mentioned, acknowledging that there will be sour times in business can be a realistic approach. That doesn’t mean to not fight tooth and nail to earn a victory. As Martin Zwilling writes in a story for Forbes, resilience requires tenacity.
“Decide that giving up is simply not an option,” he explains. “Learn that tenacity is self-sustaining when persevering actions are rewarded. Find tenacious role models, and garner the support of peers and friends. Great entrepreneurs become tenaciously defiant when told they cannot succeed. Then they get it done.”
Positivity is a plus
A CEO’s ability to shake off a misstep and not dwell in negativity is a major step forward. Overly pessimistic business leaders may have a harder time getting past those stumbles. As Daskal explains, emotions can’t take the lead when it comes to business conflict.
“Resilient people have a positive outlook,” Daskal writes. “They remind themselves that much of what they’re facing is temporary, and that they’ve overcome setbacks before and can do it again. Resilient people focus on what they can learn from the experience.”
Have a support system
This is true for professionals at any level. Having mentors and peers to turn to can be a major part of overcoming obstacles. Zwilling writes that entrepreneurs need to “gain strength from the support of others.”
“Interpersonal support is believed to be the single best driver of human resilience,” he notes. “In business, this means that the people you surround yourself with are crucial — team members, advisors, investors, partners, and peers. Avoid toxic people like the plague. Practice active listening and show appreciation.”
Be strong, and get back up
It’s easy to say that business leaders should “get tough.” For those who haven’t faced scenarios in which this sort of toughness was required, those words don’t mean much. Experience again plays a role here. Even when the CEO feels he or she has been knocked down, as Daskal writes, “Pick yourself up, as many times as it takes.”
“Resilient people face their fears and have an adaptive attitude that lets them focus on possibilities even in the worst of times,” she notes. “The tougher the situation, the tougher they become. … Resilient people understand that failure is not falling down but refusing to get up. They have the capacity to adapt successfully and the tenacity to never, ever quit.”