Resilience is the word on everyone’s lips, and organizations are clamoring to understand how to develop greater resilience across all levels of leadership.
Resilience is necessary, but it’s insufficient on its own. As the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties and return to one’s former shape, resilience sounds great — but bouncing back again and again is exhausting and unrealistic. Resilience would claim victory and say that organizations have returned to normal. Fortitude, on the other hand, wisely says, “Not so fast.” It’s time to look beyond what some have called 2021’s word of the year and consider something more meaningful.
Leaders need a long-term view. To provide direction, to stay strong in the face of continued challenges and, in doing so, to provide hope for a brighter future, leaders need more than short-term resilience. They need to cultivate fortitude.
Why Fortitude Matters Now
Employees can’t bounce back to some version of who they were before the events of the past year; they need a steady hand to provide direction and support as they move forward. The challenges of 2020 revealed underlying weaknesses that we still need to address. Employees can’t go back to what they were, and they shouldn’t want to. Instead, they need to define something new.
The pandemic may be abating in certain areas and with some populations, but it is far from over. The arrival of vaccines didn’t erase every trace of COVID. New variants have emerged, cases spike and masks will likely continue to be necessary.
Addressing New Business Needs
Organizations will need to continue to find new ways of addressing business needs — to expand strategic thinking to contemplate the unimaginable. Whether driven by a global pandemic, digital transformation or a shift in the marketplace, leaders need to think in both the short term and the long term and be ready to pivot as needed.
Working From Home
Some organizations are beginning to reopen their office doors, but now that employees and organizations have proven they can be successful working from home, there is increasing pressure to continue remote work, reduce the number of in-office days or manage blended teams.
The Pressure of Being a Working Parent
The burden placed on working parents, while not new, has been highlighted this past year. Child care challenges have always existed; COVID simply lifted the veil. A better long-term solution is required so parents — and working moms in particular — can feel supported in their need to maintain both a job and their role as a parent.
Working Toward Racial Equity
While there has been some progress in exposing racial injustice and the systemic nature of that injustice, obvious and subtle forms of bias persist. We need a movement, not a moment, if we are to address racism and bias systemically. There is more work to do, with a long view and a systems approach.
A New Look at the Employee Experience
Finally, we need to view the employee experience differently. Workers are evaluating potential employers by asking questions about their approach to diversity, equity and inclusion. The process of sourcing new talent has changed with a work-from-anywhere mentality, and we need to reshape the employee onboarding experience and approaches to career development.
Employees Need Hope — and With Fortitude Comes Hope
One of the biggest challenges leaders and their teams faced over the past year was staying positive; it’s hard to stay positive when each day raises new challenges. But addressing issues means operating from a position of strength. Strength encourages confidence and hope — the belief not only in near-term survival but in a brighter future and the confidence to persevere.
Hope will motivate leaders and their people to work toward long-term goals and help them stay focused on healthy employees, strong company performance, and a more equal and just workplace and world.
10 Steps Leaders Can Take to Cultivate Fortitude
What can leaders to do cultivate fortitude? How can they stand in their own strength and power and help others do the same? Here are 10 steps you and the leaders you work with can take:
1. Take a Longer-term View
Think strategically by considering both short-term needs and long-term goals. Taking a longer-term view sends a message of strength that you intend not only to stick around for next week or next month but next year and for the future. The implication is, “Our team and our organization will prevail. We will come out the other end, and I’m planning for it.”
2. Set Clear Goals for the Future
Leaders and their team members can stay motivated by setting clear, future-oriented goals. Goals will focus them on what’s important and help them to stay the course.
3. Identify Milestones
Focusing on “in office” or “fully vaccinated” might be lofty goals, but identifying milestones along the way creates signposts that can demonstrate progress and let you know you are on track. Not only do they provide a feeling of interim success, but they also help you determine whether you need to change course.
4. Anticipate That Plans Will Change, and Have a Plan B
Establishing a plan B is not negative thinking. Leaders who have an alternate approach are less likely to feel the devastation of setbacks. Creating an alternate route to the same destination provides confidence that you can reach your goals.
5. Bring Others Along With You
Leaders who cultivate fortitude are not solitary heroes. They recognize that strength comes from the support of others. Being willing to ask for help is a sign that you are realistic about the assistance you will need to accomplish individual, team and organizational goals.
6. Link Your Actions to Something Bigger
Fortitude needs context — it needs to link actions to something bigger than an immediate rebound. Linking goals to a larger purpose gives those goals greater prominence and creates greater meaning for your actions.
7. Know What’s Important to You, and Communicate It
Be steadfast in communicating who you are and what’s important to you. Be clear about your personal values, and understand the link between them and your actions so you can show up authentically.
8. Enhance Your Self-awareness
With self-awareness, you can withstand the bumps on the road, staying calm under pressure and when uncertainty spikes. When you find yourself behaving in a way that is scattered and inconsistent with the “steady state” approach you are trying to represent, recalibrate your emotions and readjust your actions. Respond; don’t react.
9. Dial up Your Self-talk
Fortitude requires leaders to shift their mindset and dial up self-talk. Leaders with fortitude can coach themselves through tough moments.
10. Build a Team
Fortitude is not solitude. To accomplish goals and withstand the tough times, it will take a team, a village, a nation, a global community. Fortitude comes from the strength of multiple voices, the actions of many and the collective resolve of the community.
Leaders need to do more than bounce back; they need to cultivate the resolve to move forward; shape something new; and provide the direction, the fortitude and the hope their people crave.