I’m amazed that in 2020 people continue to relate to resiliency as the ‘ability to bounce back from stresses’ and adversity. While I understand people’s good intentions at encouraging others to “bounce back” when a challenge has figuratively “knocked” them to the “ground,” it’s time we reframed resiliency. Let’s reframe resiliency from a boxer’s bounce and aggressive activity to a purposeful learning activity with a deep connection to joy. Let’s position and practice four ways to learn resiliency, a key management skill.
At first glance, joy and resiliency may not appear to be related. You may agree that resilience is essential for managers, but may be reluctant to describe the situations with which you’ve grown resiliency as joyful. Oh, those situations were full of many emotions, including and not limited to anger, fear, and sadness. But joy? Some may not even view resiliency as joyful. Many managers I talk with relate resiliency to stoicism, courage and persistence – not joy. Ok, Rebecca, where are you going with this?
Brené Brown and Henry Mintzberg?
I’ll get to that – after I introduce another seemingly disconnected pairing: Brené Brown1 and Henry Mintzberg2. These two professors and thought-leaders have far more in common than you may think. They are both iconoclasts. They both teach in management faculties. Their research findings, of which both write and speak prolifically, fundamentally shifted commonly-held views regarding people’s perceptions, behaviours and thinking. They both view resiliency as an essential attribute gained through experience and which purposefully be developed through learning.
Back to the point made above: resiliency is important for managers, especially now. I purposefully refer to managers rather than leaders because, as a Mintzberg groupie, I believe that “people who lead without managing don’t know what is going on; just like people who manage without leading are very discouraging.”3 Mintzberg also found that it is the reality of management that demands resiliency: “Let’s get past these myths and phony metaphors and get into the reality of what management really is – it is hectic, high pressure, and lots of interruptions.”4
Each of us is a manager of a project, our job, our life; and each of us most certainly leads – or has the opportunity to lead. That’s the benefit of belonging to an association like SLA: to learn to lead in a safe environment and, I would add, to build resiliency. Ask anyone who has led an initiative within SLA or managed a program. They had to learn to be resilient. Otherwise, the first criticism would have paralyzed them.
I don’t know where I first heard this saying, but I repeat it to myself and those I coach every day: “Walk on water and someone is going to complain that you splashed them.” No, you don’t have to walk on water, and you sure don’t have to be a perfectionist. Perfectionism does not serve us or our organizations well. Quality serves us well. But perfectionism? No – it slows us and initiatives down.
We need to be nimble. We need to practice GELMO (good enough, let’s move on). We need to be resilient. Leading or managing or just working in a professional capacity requires problem-solving and deciphering complexities. Not all solutions are correct, every discernment accurate, or every situation is anticipated. We are experiencing a situation right now that, while it may have been predicted, was not anticipated. You or those close to you may lose employment, may be ill, may have their lives and careers and organizations upended. This may well be the age of resiliency. It is a skill that will serve us all well. Resiliency – particularly the joy of resiliency – will keep us moving forward.
As Brown learned in her years of research, “Joy, collected over time, fuels resilience – ensuring we’ll have reservoirs of emotional strength when hard things do happen.”5 Managers must seek joy out of their day – out of their work – out of their interactions with those for whom they are responsible. Those who do not find at least one joyful or pleasant instance in their role each day need to review their situation. Our profession of library and information is steeped in learning and curiosity. Learning fuels our curiosity and vice-versa. Looking for the positive aspects of our work, and for joyful instances, is a learned behaviour. We are perfectly positioned to learn this, and to be curious as to what makes these instances joyful for us. While we will learn resilience through challenges, we will also prepare for it – in a much more meaningful way – by identifying and grabbing hold of joy and gratitude.
Recently a university librarian, a public library director, and I spoke at a conference about what it takes to be a senior manager of an organization. Resilience was at the top of our list, followed by enormous energy, persistence, vulnerability, and the ability to listen (not wait to speak, and shesh! sometimes you WANT to speak! but you have to breath and listen). We also talked about the importance of senior managers having a safe person (perhaps a life partner, but someone with which you can let your guard down, and who will tell you that you are wrong or give you a hug – or a push forward – when required). Our final point was that those in senior decision-making roles must focus relentlessly on the organization’s unique mission and value.
Resilience topped the list. People can and do build resiliency through challenges and setbacks. What if these learning opportunities have different outcomes? They may teach risk avoidance, anger or the will for revenge, or perhaps nothing. There are countless articles about ‘lessons learned from life’s challenges’. However, given the importance of resiliency, shouldn’t we explore ways to learn it effectively? And, with joy?
Learning Resiliency With Joy
- Seek challenges with a champion. We seem to assume that resiliency is best learned through challenges that jump out of the dark at us, catching us unaware. So why not keep control on the learning situation? Identify a project for which you are passionate, and want to tackle. Before you dive in to learn to swim, equip yourself with a mentor or sponsor that you trust. The ideal situation is that the mentor believes in you, and agrees to coach you through the initiative. You may even want to have a safety net of some sort in place – which is all fine. The desired outcomes are that the project deliverables are in place and that you have honed your skills, your determination follow through, your positivity and your persistence through myriad obstacles. That’s being resilient.
- Practice mindfulness. Many of you may be way ahead of me on this. Mindfulness was already gaining ground before the pandemic. It has become a key coping mechanism during Covid-19 isolation and uncertainty. If you have not yet begun practicing mindfulness, there’s no time like now. There are numerous sources, sites and apps to guide you. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? I suspect you will gain much and never look back.
- Take purposeful breaks. In addition to necessary breaks (ie. Bio-breaks), make it a point to build in two 15-minute breaks in your daily agenda. “…balancing work activity with even a brief time for detaching from those activities can promote greater energy, mental clarity, creativity and focus, ultimately growing our capacity for resilience throughout the course of the workday. The long-term payoff is that we preserve energy and prevent burnout over the course of days, weeks and months.”6
- Name your emotions. This is a key part of emotional intelligence and sometimes referred to as mental agility. The practice is to take the time – really, only a few seconds – to step back from the stress being exerted on us or by us, observe it and label it. It is why we ask children to ‘use their words’. Taking these few moments to look at what we are actually feeling and name it allows our brain to stop telling us our story and to take in what is occurring. I wouldn’t have believed it had I not learned it. I learned it at family support groups. You can learn it through apps or websites, usually within the EI grouping.
Part of the joy of resiliency is that each of these practices helps us to know ourselves better. As Mintzberg teaches us, one of the five mindsets we must have as a manager is “managing self.” How wonderful to simultaneously feed our innate curiosity and love of learning while developing our ability to manage ourselves and grow our resiliency? The perfect trifecta! We can’t have enough joy in our life or enough resiliency. While I’ll continue to reject the “bouncing” theme, I’ll accept it from Diane Coutu, a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review7: “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.”8 You’ll be resilient and joyful. You’re worth it.
1 Brene Brown: Research professor,University of Houston; Visiting professor in management, The University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business. Researches courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy.
2 Henry Mintzberg: Professor, Faculty of Management, McGill University. Visiting professorships at INSEAD, France and London Business School, England. Researches organizational management, business strategy and and rebalancing societies.