Many people believe that some of us have the ability to thrive under stress and others don’t, that we’re either born tough or weak, and our circumstances dictate how we turn out. We are firm believers that we can all learn resilience, and our ability to bounce back is not based on our genetics or even our life experience. The research supports the idea that we all have it in us; we just have to activate it effectively.
The most powerful, effective managers and leaders are those who step up to a challenge and face it with flexibility, courage and the ability to inspire others to follow them into the unknown. They may not know how strong they are before they are tested, but they have confidence in their ability to prevail. They are able to activate that profound human ability – the ability to bounce back from change and challenge.
What the Research Shows
Two compelling longitudinal studies of resilience demonstrate that our circumstances do not dictate our outcomes. Instead, it’s how we react to our circumstances that’s the most important factor in bouncing back from misfortune or change.
The first, by Emily Werner and Ruth Smith, looked at nearly 700 people on the island of Kauai. They began studying infants in 1955. Many of these infants were from poor families and had alcoholic or mentally ill parents. Many of these parents were also out of work. Werner and Smith noted that of the children who grew up in these very troubled situations, about two-thirds exhibited problematic behaviors in their late teens. Their behaviors included substance abuse, unemployment, and out of wedlock births.
On the other hand, one third of these teens did not display these troubling behaviors. Werner called this group “resilient.”
In the second study, George Vaillant was the lead researcher on a set of longitudinal studies. The first set of studies (the Grant Study began in 1937 and headed by Vaillant since 1967) followed more than 260 Harvard men. Vaillant also took over another longitudinal study, the Glueck Study, started in 1939, that includes a cohort of more than 450 men from poor, high crime neighborhoods in Boston, MA. Both studies yielded remarkable data from which Vaillant concluded that “what we do affects how we feel just as much as how we feel affects what we do.”
In reviewing much of the literature on resilience, we found researchers have explored resilience in how people relate to others, the self, and to environment.
Interpersonally (relationship to others): a resilient leader generally feels appreciated; is able to ask for help and give help to others; can work collaboratively with others and display empathy.
Internally (relationship to self): a resilient leader is confident in their ability to problem solve, make decisions, and communicate. These individuals are future-minded and are comfortable using positive emotions. Resilient leaders are self-aware and are able to manage their moods, thoughts, and attitudes.
Environmentally (relationship to environment): When called to action in response to circumstances, resilient leaders are able to view mistakes and hardships as challenges to confront, are able to set realistic goals, and are internally driven, proactive, and purpose-filled.
Leading a resilient organization takes courage, focus and the ability to engage followers in walking a purposeful path that may change in an instant. Sloan Group International has conducted original research on resilience and leadership, and we address what is now known about cultivating our ability to bounce back from change or challenge in how we work with our clients.
We’ve created proprietary assessments, tools and programs that make a powerful, positive and measurable impact on change leadership and change-ready organizational culture. Take a look here to see how we can help you be more resilient in 2019.