The culture of business has long revolved around one question: “How do we squeeze the most out of people?” As a result, leaders have exhausted their organization and driven its talent to the brink.
The pandemic and The Great Resignation have taught us that we need to build resilience into our lives and businesses. Organizations need to become change-proof.
Change-proof resilience is about how leaders develop their own resilience and model it for their teams.
In ongoing research, my team and I surveyed almost 3,000 professionals across a mix of industries and types of organizations in our Resilient Leader Assessment.
The survey is designed to measure physical, mental, emotional and spiritual resilience with statements such as “I take time to quiet my mind on a regular basis,” and “I work in the evenings and on weekends.” Among our findings so far:
- About 6% of leaders scored high when it comes to attributes of change-proof resilience.
- Almost two-thirds of all respondents scored in the middle — mostly resilient but with room for improvement.
- 34% had scores that indicate chronic stress has rendered them vulnerable to acute events.
The average score was 64.2 out of a possible 100 on the resilience scale. This indicates that, on average, many respondents are hovering precariously close to burnout. Yet it also indicates that improved resilience is within reach.
When building resilience, small, incremental changes can lead to exponential growth.
How can leaders master change and steer companies toward successful outcomes during times of instability? Here are three steps that can help:
- Recognize that organizations must deal with the consequences of chronic stress just like the people in them.
- Acknowledge that it’s your job as a leader to diagnose these stresses and spend more time looking after the people who work for you rather than looking over them.
- Ensure that you and your people get the rest and recovery needed before facing a crisis by making recovery rituals part of your company culture.
Think of the third step as building up a resilience “bank account” in advance — well before unexpected change requires you and your team to draw upon those reserves.
In his paper, “The Resilience Bank Account: Skills for Optimal Performance,” Dr. Michael Maddaus described the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual reserves that make up resilience. The six areas he identifies in which people can build resilience are: sleep, exercise, meditation, mindfulness, gratitude and self-compassion.
Just as a bank account operates on a simple basis of deposits and withdrawals, so does the harmony of our bodies, our minds, our hearts and our spirits. Yet many of us unconsciously make daily withdrawals while also depending on the randomness of events to fill up our tanks and make our deposits for us. Operating this way and not planning our deposits will take us to the brink of being broke — burned out.
So, what are the resilience rituals that can prevent burnout? In addition to the ones cited by Dr. Maddaus, try practicing the “Pause, Ask, Choose” framework when you face stressful situations or events:
- Pause: Stop and take several deep breaths. This is like rebooting your computer when it is slogging along under the strain of all those open tabs before it freezes.
- Ask: Reframe and discover deeper meaning in whatever challenge you face. Reframe the moment for your growth by asking questions like, “What’s the creative opportunity here?” and “What can I be grateful for?”
- Choose: Choose to ritualize your recovery for higher performance in the future. When you choose, you are consciously ritualizing small, daily practices for your personal recovery to create mental, emotional, physical and spiritual harmony.
When you pause to reset, ask to reframe and choose to ritualize making daily deposits, deep habits take hold and before you know it, you’re performing resilience without thinking about it.
This is what you should be doing with your employees — and yourself.
Building small, daily resilience rituals is an easy way of depositing resilience before you need to spend it. It might mean scheduling time to take a breather between meetings. It might mean rotating days off, taking a walk outside or simply weaving thoughts of gratitude throughout the day. Switching back and forth between intense activity, focused performance and periods of rest and recovery is how we build muscle in strength training. It’s also how we build resilience.
Just like with any training, ritualize these activities so they become our new default. This takes practice and commitment at the beginning, but it will pay off when you instinctively turn to these rituals rather than the fight, flight or freeze stress response that tends to be the default when facing unexpected change.
Building regular rest and recovery rituals into your life and the life of your organization assures that when disruptions come, you’ll be able to see the creative opportunities in front of you and respond with agility. You’ll be practicing and modeling change-proof resilience.