‘Instead of seeing the rug being pulled from under us, we can learn to dance on the shifting carpet.’
— Thomas Crum
There is no doubt the world is changing at a rapid pace right now. We are facing seismic shifts in Europe and the US. And some of it unwished for. I know a feeling of uncertainty about the future is affecting a lot of people and businesses. I too have undergone a huge amount of personal and professional change in the past year.
And it is perfectly human and understandable when we are facing the unknown to feel anxiety, pressure and stress; experience a sense of urgent, driven tension and feel compelled to focus on securing the advantage at all costs. The only problem with this way of being is - it doesn’t sustainably work, bring out our creative best or get us in the performance zone. And I know, because I’ve tried it. I have also discovered that in times of change whether welcome or unwelcome, there is only one thing you need to lead yourself and others resourcefully through change.
We are all operating in unknown territory. The only thing that seems certain is uncertainty. Uncertainty can make us want to batten down the hatches, to find ways to cope and manage to feel more in control. To look for things, ideas or techniques outside of us to hold on to that will make us feel secure. Although approaching change in this way may temporarily help you feel better, it won’t help you in the long term.
The one and only thing you truly need in good times or bad is - resilience.
Definition of resilience: ‘an ability to adjust easily to change or recover from misfortune’ – Webster Dictionary
Why does resilience matter?
When faced with change: ‘Resilient people, possess three characteristics: a staunch acceptance of reality; a deep belief, often buttressed by strongly held values, that life is meaningful; and an uncanny ability to improvise. You can bounce back from hardship with just one or two of these qualities, but you will only be truly resilient with all three’.
Diane Coutu in her research based HBR Article – How resilience works
So when the proverbial hits the fan, in times of change or when we are operating in the deep unknown, the only thing we can really count on to see us through is our own resilience. And as human beings, it was ever thus. When Darwin talked about survival of the fittest – he was not talking about the toughest or the strongest, he was actually talking about the most adaptable. Those with resilience. Or in other words bounceback-ability. If you know you can bounce back from something, it means you can welcome anything. And resilience enables creativity. In her new book In your creative element (to which I contributed as Creative Coach) – Claire Bridges MSc conducted extensive research both academically and in practise to identify the key elements for creativity and innovation. There is no doubt that the creative elements she identified of openness, an insightful mind and the ability to be with the unknown are all hallmarks of resilience. And useful to remember too, that innovation is the single biggest differentiator when it comes to business success.
So when it comes to leadership, it’s useful to reflect on what a resilient approach looks and feels like - as well as it’s opposite – which I will call a rigid approach.
Here’s how they operate and the impact they have on others.
A rigid mindset is fundamentally motivated by Fear. Anxiety, urgency, impatience, frustration and insecurity are all a form of fear and at their source is the belief ‘there is something missing, something wrong that I need to fix.’
A resilient mindset is fundamentally motivated by Faith. Trust, acceptance, inspiration, ease and flow are all a form of having the faith to know that ‘we all have innate well-being and wisdom to draw on, and no matter what happens around me, I can trust in the flow of life.’
One of these is fundamentally true and the other is a made-up story we tell ourselves. And we often get these mixed up – I know I did.
So, what do you think? From your own experience:
Which approach do YOU think creates better working relationships, helps innovative performance to flow and enables sustainable business results?
But an even bigger question:
Who would you rather work for?
If you take an honest look and you realise as a leader you associate a bit more with a rigid than a resilient mindset - it’s quite human and popular to go in that direction. As an employee, you may even in times of anxiety wish someone else who seems to be more ordered, organised and in control would take all your problems away and take charge. As appealing as that may be at times, if you take a look – you will know too that a primarily rigid approach in a leader limits your own freedom, your own creativity and your own accountability. Which are all connected to your own performance.
The industrial revolution has had a big influence on how we work today. With the best of intentions, we decided that the best way to improve things was to treat everything and everyone like an assembly line so we could be more productive. Including us. Fixed job descriptions, 9-5 working, offices, cubicles, unmoveable targets, complex planning, process and project management systems. The only problem is, as you may have (or may not have) noticed, we are not boxes of widgets. We are human. And as Yuval Noah Harari points out in his brilliant book Sapiens - the history of human kind - biologically and sociologically we are still hunter gatherers, who operate best, when we are in small collaborative tribes, taking care of each other and responding to the moment; what is here and now, able to intuitively ‘sniff the wind’ and resourcefully adapt to circumstances. I’d call that resilience. And in a changing world – that quality is needed now more than ever.
Now lets be realistic, as leaders we will all find ourselves from time to time being unnecessarily rigid (especially when we are under pressure or feeling insecure about the future) – trying to control things that feel out of control – because that’s all we know how to do when we feel afraid. That fear response is human.
The Fear Factor
Fear is a very helpful survival response that helps us flee or fight danger, REAL danger, tigers-and-bears-type danger. We need our fear response to stay alive. But PERCEIVED danger still triggers our fear response in the very same way. Once we sense a potential danger, our body releases hormones that slow or shut down physical functions that aren’t needed for survival. We also become hyper-alert and in this over-active state, the brain perceives events as negative. Living under constant threat weakens us physically, emotionally and mentally. Source: University of Minnesota - Impact of Fear
Fear can interrupt processes in our brains that enable us to regulate emotions, read non-verbal cues, absorb information presented to us, reflect before acting and act ethically. This impacts our thinking and decision-making in negative ways, leaving us susceptible to intense emotions and impulsive reactions. All of these effects can leave us unable to act appropriately and fundamentally leave us less resilient.
‘Fear affects the nervous system, the immune system and the chemistry of the body. Fear is contagious.’
- David Hamilton, PhD
The trick is not to expect yourself to be perfect, but to catch yourself in the act of operating from insecure thinking and attempting to rigidly control the uncontrollable. A good barometer for that is noticing your fearful feelings as they are a reliable barometer of the state of your thinking.
The good news
Everyone has resilience available to them at any moment – nothing outside of you can ever take away your innate resilience. To experience your own resilience more reliably, more often - we need to clear up some misunderstandings about how our minds work and our experience of life (and our fears) are created.
1. We think things outside of us can make us feel mad, bad, scared, sad or glad. False: Our experience of life only works one way – not from the (very compelling) circumstances that are occurring outside of us. 100% of our felt experience of life is created inside our own minds. Through the power of thought. Our thoughts create our feelings which give us our moment by moment experience – not the outside circumstances. And our thoughts and feelings can change – and they always do.
2. Deep down, we think there is something wrong or missing that needs fixing. False: Because we don’t realise and connect with who we really are, we think we are our personality, identity or body. In fact, who we are is so much more – we are animated by a life energy that is also constantly connected to a source of creative potential, well-being and inspiration – the intelligence of the universal life force itself. As human beings we are, in fact, designed to thrive. We have available to us at all times a source of innate well-being and wisdom (and if we don’t experience that at times – it’s because our own thinking that has temporarily gotten in the way - see 1.).
Realising for yourself with conscious awareness and insight the truth behind these misunderstandings can and does lead effortlessly to a sustainably resilient mind-set and knowing for sure that ‘no matter what happens you will handle it.’
Ground-breaking academic studies on resilience after trauma, show that when people insightfully understanding the principles of how their mind really works they access their own innate resilience and:
• realise the “reality” they see in any situation is made up with their own power of thought
• transform their relationship with their thinking so there is no need to take it (traumatic thoughts) so seriously
• see how well-being and wisdom naturally appear and are always available to them when their minds clear and their thinking quiets down
• realise there is no event, no matter how traumatic, that cannot be overcome when seen from a higher level of consciousness.
We need a world where acting from fear, generated by chronic insecure thinking does not win out and wreak havoc and destruction on things we hold dear – the planet, our freedoms, harmony, peace and prosperity. Now more than ever, we need leaders of wisdom, courage and resilience.
Bounceback-ability – remember - you were born with it.
New year – fresh start: If you’d like to discover the source of leading change for yourself come to our next transformational Open Programme: Resilient Leader Training January 26th and 27th 2017. Especially for Changemakers.
- Angie Wiles
Co-Founder Virgo HealthCommunications, Entrepreneur and Business Mentor
Here’s a sneak peak inside our last training in October: