New Year Reminders on Resilience

New Year Reminders on Resilience

by
Ambica Saxena, Shelley Winter and Rebecca Siow

Ambica is Head of YSC Singapore, Shelley is YSC’s Global Head of Executive Coaching and Rebecca is part of its Consulting team (APAC).

At the Asian Human Capital and Leadership Symposium last November, YSC Consulting asked the audience if they and their teams expect a challenging 2019. An overwhelming majority raised their hands. Does this include you too? If so, we share three useful reminders on how you can grow your resilience for the new year ahead.

Most leaders anticipate a challenging year ahead for their business and their teams – and yet, leaders and their people are exhausted from the amount of change and challenges they have been managing for several years now. Given this, it is no surprise that ‘resilience’ is becoming a buzzword in many organisations. Even for those who think of resilience as a strength, in our modern world, everyone is seeking to increase their resilience. But often the word resilience is overused or misused. Many people still think of resilience as simply bouncing back from a setback. Yet if you think about it, all markets and industries are finding themselves in a constant state of change with global, political and digital disruptions and with increasing demands on performance. In this context bouncing back as a survival strategy is no longer realistic.

Or, many tend to think of resilience as landing on interventions for well-being. No doubt, exercise classes, nutrition advice, and mindfulness programmes are all important and necessary for managing our physical and mental energy. But they are not enough. Leaders and their people also need thinking, learning and social strategies to deal with increased performance pressures and change – to be able to respond to those challenges in the moment.

Research into child and adult development, and neuroscience show us that resilience is developable. It is through the choices that we make, in response to challenge, that we build up our resilience resources. Given the prevalence of organisational change, it is important to understand the development of resilience in the context of leadership.

At YSC, we define resilience as the ability to grow, adapt and perform through times of change and challenge. Our Leadership Resilience ProfilerTM draws on the latest psychological research and combines it with our first-hand experience of working with global leaders who have developed positive resilience habits. We have identified the five critical resources to developing resilience: Support, Confidence, Striving, Recovery and Adapting.

leadership resilience profiler

During the lunch-time sessions that YSC ran at the Symposium, we asked participants to vote for one of the five resources that they wanted to dig deeper into. Interestingly, the group at the first session voted for Striving while the group at the second session voted for Adapting. And, only a handful across both sessions were keen on Support! Given these steers, and in consideration of your potentially challenging year ahead, here are three reminders for developing your resilience:

#1: Don’t just work hard. Balance perseverance with flexibility.

For many in Asia, hard work is a virtue. The Confucian work ethic certainly believes in the value of hard work. But Striving is not about sheer effort alone. Rather, Striving is about putting in the right kind of effort, in the right places and ways. It is perseverance with a flexible focus. It is working hard while considering multiple perspectives, ideas and routes to overcoming a challenge.

Think about what happens if you persevere without flexibility. You run the risk of tunnel vision. This will be detrimental in your rapidly changing environment today. On the other hand, if you veer too much into flexibility, you end up indecisive and unable to make headway towards your goal. It is important to get the balance between perseverance and flexibility right. As you begin the new year, remember to frequently pause and ask if you are optimising this balance.

#2: Don’t just review the past. Question assumptions for the future.

At some point or another, you would have participated or even led after-action reviews (AARs), seeking learnings after key events, projects or strategic initiatives. Historically, we have been encouraged to take learnings from the past, to look back. But in our fast-changing world you also need to constantly scan the market to see how your customers and competitors are changing. Then, you can go beyond the present and postulate future changes in your market.

Most of us have a human tendency to look for data that confirms our decisions. However, as you reflect on the past to form insights for the present, you need to acknowledge past assumptions that were incorrect. As you form hypotheses for the future, you must let go of assumptions that are no longer relevant. The goal here is not necessarily to Adapt or fundamentally change your strategies and solutions. However, you need to gauge the need to Adapt. You do this by not just reviewing the past, but your thinking of the past. Is that thinking still relevant today and tomorrow?

#3: Don’t just go it alone to be strong. Know when to turn to others for help.

It was surprising that Support was the resource least voted for during the Symposium. One possibility is that participants feel they are adequately supported. On the other hand, what if they feel a sense of shame in asking for help or expressing their vulnerability? A cultural upbringing that emphasises stoicism – enduring pain or hardship without showing one’s feelings – can stand in the way. For instance, the Chinese speak of ‘eating bitterness’ (吃苦) almost as a badge of honour. If this describes you, consider building positive relationships which will become your system of support during stressful events.

Think about the people around you, whether at work or beyond. How many people do you tend to turn to when difficulties arise? Are they the same people each time? Who is providing you practical help and who is providing you emotional support?

Remember, don’t take pride in appearing strong. Your real strength lies in knowing when to ask for help and who to ask for help.

2019 will indeed be challenging for many of us. When we asked the Symposium participants to describe people and teams who put in a lot of effort but only had ineffective, wasted or counterproductive results to show, they surfaced words such as “toxic”, “dysfunctional”, “demotivated” and “polarising”. In contrast, when we asked for descriptors associated with positive striving, they shared words like “energised”, “aligned”, “in harmony”, “determined” and “safe”. As you face into 2019, we wish that you will experience all of the latter. Remember, you can enhance your chances by pressing on with flexibility, questioning your assumptions for the future, and courageously asking for help.

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