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It's not enough to be resilient

If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that successful leaders must be resilient. Companies must be filled full of employees and cultures of resilience. Is that enough? Will that sustain us?

The definition of resilience means, “The act of leaping or springing back, or the act of rebounding; as the resilience of a ball or of sound”. Sure, we have bounced back over the last two years, but we have been sent back and forth like a ping pong match or a pinball machine. Resilience can win the race with one or two setbacks. But when you face continual prolonged stress and trauma, how can you keep moving forward?

Continual crisis and uncertainty beg for us to have additional character qualities that can give more buoyancy to our resilience. The question we need to answer as leaders today, is how can I sustain and maintain resilience daily? How can I remain resilient?

Our brains and bodies are not designed to handle prolonged ongoing stress. The parasympathic part of our autonomic nervous system (ANS) has a window of tolerance that we can maintain decorum and utilize resilience, but when our minds and bodies endure too much stress outside of this window, our sympathetic nervous system steps up to bat and we can enter fight, flight or freeze. In prolonged stress, we must regulate this system and expand our window of tolerance or calm ourselves down. (Wise Brain Bulletin 4.6, Dr. Dan Siegel and Linda Graham)

The following list of 7 things are ways that help expand our window of tolerance that involve ways of staying calm and reframing.

Be more stubborn. Careful here, I don’t want you to become rigid. But there is a level of defiance that is required today that says, “I got this, it’s not going to take me down”. Dig in and put up a mental wall that does not allow for failure or disappointment. Expect more to come and be ready for it. Set your face like flint and move forward. It’s the kind of stiff back that a toddler displays when trying not to get buckled into the car seat after an extended car ride. Be stubborn against the crisis, not in denial, but stubborn, unyielding, resolute.

Keep it simple, keep it moving. Don’t stop but pause to breathe. Look left and right and take an assessment of the landscape, like a 30 second timeout in a ball game. These small moments of reflection and huddling up revive and remind a team of purpose and goals. Review and communicate the common goals everyone in the organization has and what you stand for together. Simplify the direction and goals of the organization and use this time to unify company culture around these goals and the values that will be used to execute them. Then assign and act. No one likes meetings just to regroup and plan with no action. Simplify and keep moving.

Adapt, accept, and innovate. In my lifetime there has never been more of an incubator for adaptation and innovation than now. The companies that did both of these things throughout the pandemic have gained customers, market share and have grown the past two years. It’s not too late to join them. Ask your customers questions, get curious and examine their viewpoints. Get a new perspective by involving unusual voices from all areas of your organization in the discussion. What can we see by looking at a problem differently? Brainstorm off site. Changing your geographical landscape can shift mental perspective as well. Take advantage of the opportunity for change and embrace it. We are not going back to where we were. The new normal is now like shifting sand beneath us. All new ideas are in pencil, nothing is permanent. In his book, “Win the Day”, author Mark Batterson uses the phrase, “let go of dead yesterdays and unborn tomorrows”. We must let go of where we were, the past and the normal that is not coming back and where we thought we were going. When we release these anchors in our mind, true innovation can take place.

Be Gritty. Angela Duckworth in her new study on the subject says grit is evident in all high achievers. The higher the grit in a person, the more deliberate they practiced, got feedback, and reflected on their work. Grit isn’t just the practice; it is the mindset. It is the motivation that comes from deep within that pushes you when no one is looking. When attached to your purpose and talents, grit can elevate and keep you going. It is the spare tire, the extra tank of gas, the AAA tow truck. Grit is the thing inside of you that moves you forward when you are empty, exhausted, overwhelmed, and uncertain. Take the time to reassess your aspiration, your meaning, your purpose in life. Is it well defined? Has your purpose gotten foggy? Take it back out and polish it. Know it. Reacquaint yourself with it and realign with your intrinsic motivation. The results will surprise you.

The concept of Kaizen comes from Eiji Toyoda in the 1950s who after visiting American auto manufactured designed a better more efficient way. Kaizen means an uncompromising, tenacious commitment to continuous improvement. Your grit must be sprinkled with a bit of Kaizen. Like a windup toy that you wind and point a direction toward a goal, be persistent in pursuit of new horizons and improvement. Hold fast to your values, the belief in your people and what you must give to your clients and communities. Company culture bonded, committed, and moving the same direction will be unstoppable.

Look on the bright side. Winston Churchhill said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity, an optimist sees he opportunity in every difficulty”. Hope is the bedrock of optimism. Hope is a belief that it is obtainable. It implies some expectation of obtaining the good desired… it always gives pleasure or joy, whereas wish and desire may produce or be accompanied with pain and anxiety. Hope has confidence in a future event; the highest degree of well-founded expectation of good… the source of ineffable, unspeakable happiness. (Websters 1828 dictionary) Hope inspires others. Hope creates followers. Hope does even more than that. Hope is critical when uncertainty and trauma are looming around.

Rebounding through prolonged crisis can have a negative impact on our attitude. Hope fills us with positivity and allow us to look forward optimistically, build dreams and take risks. Science has proven that hope in the mind mimics morphine as a stress and pain reducer. For those who have hope, the body naturally releases endorphins and enkephalins which reduce pain and in effect give comfort and reduce the fight or flight mechanism that reduces stress. (Terry Small, Brain Bulletin #47, #91,

Belly laugh more. In a recent article in Harvard Business Review, Betty Anne Heggie says we should all laugh more in the office. She cites research from the Mayo clinic that laughter can positively affect your heart rate, blood pressure, and leave you feeling calm and relaxed. It can even increase productivity. Laughter releases endorphins, stimulates circulation, and gets more oxygen to the brain to release stress. Laughing at yourself is even better. There is grace for yourself when you can laugh at mistakes, failures, or missteps. We are all human after all.

Where does laughter come from? What we need to be the giver and supplier of laughter long term, especially through crisis or trauma, is joy.

Emotions like joy and hope and love are steadfast. Even when your child misbehaves, your love doesn’t change. You can be disappointed and love at the same time. You can be overwhelmed and hopeful. You can be mourning and have joy. When you belly laugh from a place of joy despite circumstances, it spreads and has deep healing properties.

Joy leaks and spreads. When your joy tank is full, laughter comes easier and more often. Smiles amidst stress are more common. Hard work without anxiety is more evident. Outcomes and innovations thrive.

Give it away. Share joy and hope with someone, with many someones. Both emotions are multipliers. In the way that rabbits and mice multiply, you will be shocked by how much joy and hope are restored to you when given away. The resonance of your own soul and mind deepen to more joy and hope and the positive impact you have on others will spread and multiply even more. My friend and author, Howard Prager, says in his book “Make Someone’s Day” that simply the act of giving away even a small act of kindness can have a lasting lifelong effect on someone else in a positive life changing way.

John Baldoni, in his book “Grace, a Leaders Guide to a Better Us” describes Grace as kindness executed in actions toward others. It reveals our character and is only evident when acted upon. When we work to make the lives of others better and give away and spread hope and joy, then grace is manifested in our company culture and communities.

Resilience alone it about bouncing back to where we were. The veneer of resilience can be hollow and full of worry. Using these 7 steps establish sustainable patterns of resiliency, an organization can perpetuate growth, risk, increase positive company culture and optimize output. An individual applying these steps can improve mental health, shift perspective, accept change and improve outcomes.

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