The Importance of Resilience

By Chris Chittenden

"The key to winning is poise under stress."

… Paul Brown (1908 - 1991) US football coach 

For the past five years I have participated in an annual worldwide survey of coaches that is conducted by Sherpa Coaching. Coaches, executives, HR and training professionals from 53 countries participated this year making it one of the more extensive surveys of its kind. Respondents to the survey get a copy of the results and I recently received mine.

This year the results of the survey pointed to a stand-out theme centred on the immense pressure felt by people working in organisations. Sherpa Coaching report that there were certain key words that coming up over and over again in the responses - change, complexity, pressure and stress.

This is hardly surprising to many of us in the coaching profession, particularly those of us who do much of our work in organisations. Over and over again, we come across people who spend a large proportion of their time coping with the expectations and seeming chaotic nature of many workplaces leading to a greatly reduced capacity for constructive behaviour and growth.

The issues of rapid change and increasing complexity would no doubt be familiar to many of you. The challenges that arise in addressing those issues are significant.

Let us start with rapid change. More and more organisations are increasingly reactive in their approach. The feedback from focus groups and customer surveys, current profitability and share price are just some of the factors that cause quick reaction and a shift in focus. In order to effectively deal with rapid change, individuals need to be adaptable and potentially learn new techniques and approaches to suit the new circumstances. This requires individuals be very effective learners. Many people are unable to adapt. They seek to implement their existing way of doing things to the changed the situation. In other words, rather than seeking to adapt themselves to the new circumstances, they seek to change the circumstances to fit themselves. In doing so, they hardly adapt at all.

The challenge of complexity is symptomatic of the information age. We have so much data to process that we cannot make sense of it. Our response is to focus on some data and believe that we have a handle on the whole picture. As has been repeatedly shown in research on the subject, we believe we need lots of data to make good decisions yet our inability to process large amounts of data leads us astray resulting in poorer decisions. The irony is the subjects in the research still believe they are making better decisions. The key to dealing with greater complexity lies in our ability to take information and align it with key fundamentals in order to make better sense of things.

When rapid change and increased complexity are coupled with a reduced number of employees and an emphasis on productivity, it is little wonder that individuals feel under pressure and stress, in the form of dystress, emerges. Dystress predisposes us to rely on our coping styles making it much harder to adapt and recognise, let alone deal with, complexity. Our coping styles lead to many of the workplace issues, such as bullying, that seem to show up regularly in the news.

The key to dealing with stress is resilience - the capacity to effectively manage one's way of being and the ability to persevere.

We see people under stress all the time and, indeed, much of my work in recent times has been helping individuals to build their resilience. In my view, resilience is the key. If you cannot be resilient in the face of change, complexity and pressure then you will struggle to adapt; leading to more dystress. Resilience is built from self-awareness and strategies to recognise when we are moving into our coping styles and how to address that.

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© 2013 Chris Chittenden