Billy Ocean sings, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” – a thought that many people in business would echo and applaud. Tough is a word people often use to mean resilient. However, the reality is such that when times are hard, only the resilient (aka tough) remain resourceful, focus on the future, healthy and positive. Going thru hard times is one of the most powerful forces in life. It can bring out the best of ourselves or the worst. The choice is ultimately ours.
The best way to think about resilience, for me at least, is by asking questions. Here are four questions that I have asked myself and seem very relevant to the times we are living in.
Question #1 – Is resilience just bouncing back?
Bouncing back is not resilience; it is an outcome of resilience.
A resilient individual does more than just getting thru a challenging experience; she survives, overcomes, AND thrives.
- A survivor makes it, barely. Being a survivor has heroic connotations; the survivor stands firm and resolute to endure. Every day they get by, always hanging on by a thread.
- A fighter takes destiny on their own hands. They don’t make it, and they fight every day, every step of the way, they adapt and overcome.
- A thriving individual comes out stronger, not despite the impediments, but because of them.
Question #2- In the face of adversity, do you protect what you have or seek out new growth opportunities?
Before the COVID-19 got real, I was working on two proposals for team coaching engagements. I wasn’t expecting to hear about them for a little while. Then I heard from both of them; company X decided to accelerate the process and get started as soon as possible. Company Y chose to hold on to all purchasing efforts until the crisis ends.
Companies’ reactions to crises and downturns are usually defensive, prioritizing short term actions over longer-term initiatives. Research shows that resilient companies that adopt a long-term perspective, in the time of crisis, can come out of it stronger and with a competitive advantage.
Defensive actions may be necessary for some companies to survive the downturn. But to thrive, resilient leaders also need to consider actively investing in growth engines, including R&D, innovation, leadership development, and efficiency.
Question #3 – As a resilient leader how I should show up in times of stress
Remember when Capt. Sully skillfully landed his failing plane on the Hudson River? His leadership saved lots of lives that could have been lost. That was his resilient leadership moment.
We know from ample research that leadership makes the most significant difference when the world around us is uncertain when we are unsure about what lies ahead.
Today is a resilient leadership moment for everyone. Especially for people whose decisions affect lots of people. Leaders must think strategically, communicate persuasively, and act decisively. They need to show up with compassion and empathy. Capt. Sully has four things to share from his leadership moment.
And as my friend Govert van Sandwijk says, “people at the top are always having an impact, so the question is what kind of impact to you want to have.”
Question #4. – Beyond showing up, how can I help others?
A real test of leadership and resilience is how we show up during a crisis. And how we encourage others to show up.
Individuals and the societies they form, the companies they work for, are interrelated. Individuals are constrained by the culture, the political structures, the resources, etc. Yet changes in the behavior of these individuals (particularly people in positions of power) have proven to show results in changes at the broader community and societal scales. The times we are living in are times for leadership to show up in a way that inspires and models the way.
- The ability to adapt to changing circumstances
- The ability to learn how to learn
- The ability to be resourceful
- The ability to form robust alliances
There are times in our lives when pressures are at the highest level, or we experience trauma or go thru hard times. Leaders are looking at how to respond to one of the most incredible crises in recent history. Executives should be looking forward to not only survive but to bounce back and thrive. Their goal should be attaining success not despite the crisis, but because of the opportunities, the crisis has generated.
As a business leader coping and emerging from the crisis, can you become the genesis of a new, emerging resilient leadership that’s built for the “next normal”?