“We just need our people to just become more resilient.” This comment is likely written into the principles of your leadership framework and often repeated by senior leaders in town halls. I’ve found this phrase frequently echoed in mature organizations that are struggling to innovate or manage through change and in upstarts where there is still enthusiasm but people are working like crazy to make deadlines or lift a product or service out of creation and into the next development phase.

Asking employees to become more resilient is becoming a prime kicker for a downward slide on the slippery slope toward becoming zombies. Those who have become “zombied” seem frozen out of fear that they cannot succeed or contribute to the success of others. The Energy Curve diagram below may help you visualize where your employees and teams are. When employees are trying too hard to get back up after feeling a sense of loss, or they sound nostalgic, talking about the good ol’ days, then note to yourself, “They are about to become sleepwalkers and will not be as productive, fulfilled or loyal as you hoped they would be.”

Energy Curve

Resilience is a principle we learn about somewhere in our journey to adulthood, either through our own hero’s journey or in watching someone else come out of his or her inner cave to meet the provocateur – or face a life lesson – and step into the light of new self-awareness and wisdom.

The term “resilience” can be the silent culture killer, like a lot of terms thrown out as shorthand in organizations without considering what is really being suggested. Here’s why.

We talk about resilience as:

  • The courage to come back from failure
  • Trying when you’re not sure you can succeed
  • Getting back up when you’re knocked down

Yet, in most organizations, there is a complete lack of acknowledgement for the effort to come back, to stand tall or to take responsibility. If there is a celebration of acknowledgment, it is so temporary that the call to resilience continues to make us feel like we are never enough.

The repetitive nature of change, chaos and challenges that keep knocking people off kilter when they bravely attempt to do something extraordinary has made many people weary. It dims our enthusiasm to keep trying. It often becomes easier to just play small.

In my book “Zombies to Zealots,” I offer ideas for the “Rescue” team leaders who can see people as humanity at work, seeking to give their best. There are three actions you can take now to keep people on the left side of the curve, climbing toward Zeal. If your employees slip after you’ve begun taking these actions, they land more often on the side of thriving where the challenges, chaos and changes that bubble up are met with more creativity and energy for performance.

  • View your employees as “souls at work” – people who are truly wired for contribution and creativity rather than complicity.
  • Ask yourself where you demand resilience, hear nostalgia for the good ol’ days or even wonder who has sold out for a paycheck. When you can surface those truths, determine where you allow others to stand tall, come back and risk failure to do something bold and extraordinary. Celebrate their effort even if you can’t celebrate their outcome.
  • Find your own still point, and balance your leadership act. This balance will help you flow more easily through the day with an intention to set the cultural tone. Every thought you have about your people may be something they read on your face, in your body language and in your tone. Setting your intention to change the cultural tone will lead you to zeal out first, making it comfortable for others to readily follow.

If you have a balanced scorecard for your energy every day, resilience will become a natural state for even those of us who experience chaotic and sweeping change.