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Michellene Davis: Resiliency – An Essential Quality of Leadership

The world is tough. It can seem like there is always another crisis on the horizon, and that the odds are stacked against us. How, then, do many individuals not only survive but even thrive, in the face of adversity? The key is resiliency—”the ability to bounce back from negative challenges wiser, stronger and more […]

The world is tough. It can seem like there is always another crisis on the horizon, and that the odds are stacked against us. How, then, do many individuals not only survive but even thrive, in the face of adversity? The key is resiliency—”the ability to bounce back from negative challenges wiser, stronger and more personally powerful” (Crill). This “I get knocked down then I get up again” mentality is one of the most powerful tools for achieving happiness and success. 

Resiliency.

Resiliency is fundamental in our current socio-political climate. Since we do not live and work in a vacuum, the upsetting headlines that we read and hear about every day are bound to hinder daily functioning. Particularly in uncertain times, a triggering news flash, if not addressed, can wreak havoc on one’s mental health and work product. To help overcome these challenges, individuals in leadership positions should take it upon themselves to promote resiliency and foster a safe and productive workspace.

The good news is that resiliency is not a fixed trait, but rather an aspect of character that can be strengthened—like a skill or muscle. As Crill points out, resilient people are not simply lucky and immune to negativity; rather, they “have developed positive strategies [for] navigat[ing]…the crisis.” 

As a change agent, resiliency is especially crucial. A resilient leader who can also foster this quality in others will cultivate a positive work environment of growth and success. In fact, studies have demonstrated that higher levels of resiliency are correlated with better work performance and health for individuals in various careers —including lawyers, transit workers, firefighters, and military personnel—as well as “reduced culture shock in…employees on work missions abroad” (Paton et al., 49).

The benefits of resiliency in the workplace are most apparent when it comes to dealing with stressful situations. Whereas employees with high levels of resiliency face crises head-on in order to achieve a desirable solution, those with low levels of resiliency tend to retreat (Paton et. al., 44). In other words, resilient people try to control the circumstances, instead of letting the circumstances control them.

These different approaches yield self-reinforcing results. “Avoidance just perpetuates, if not augments, the stressfulness of situations” (Paton et. al., 44). The longer you allow a crisis to fester, the more urgent and severe it becomes. Consequently, people who initially crumble when faced with stress end up subjecting themselves to a more grueling process. The memory of their previous ordeal then magnifies their fear of the subsequent stressor, and the vicious cycle continues. In contrast, direct confrontation often resolves the crisis, thus alleviating the stressor, and providing reprieve and even satisfaction. As a result, people who act with resilience in one instance are more likely to take a similar approach when the next challenge appears on the horizon.

Moreover, even when their efforts fail, resilient people learn from the process, rather than ruminate over their defeat (Paton et. al., 44). In other words, people who possess resiliency do not always “win,” but they never really “lose.” That is, they see failure not as an outcome, but as a means to future success. Thus, resiliency not only increases happiness and success in stressful moments, but also encourages people to strive for improvement. In the workplace, this translates to employees who actively seek new responsibilities, and embrace the difficulties that accompany promotions, instead of being complacent in their current position, and shrinking away from challenges. In this sense, Winston Churchill’s famous quote about optimists and pessimists – “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty” can be said about resilient and non-resilient people. 

As a leader, it is up to you to build resilience—both explicitly and by example. By focusing on the process rather than just the results—in your own work and when reviewing the work of others—you can foster a more productive environment. Notably, it is important to emphasize resilience not only in times of difficulty, but also in times of success. If you focus on the ability to improve in all situations, rather than simply applauding a job well done, you can create an environment of embracing constructive criticism, seeking challenges, and not backing away from the unknown. Thus, ironically, the best way to generate success is by turning the focus away from it. A leader who can do this successfully demonstrates the value of resilience. 

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