Looking for a New Habit? Try Resilience.

How Leaders Use Resilience to Sustain Excellence, by Ryan Hansen

This week marks the first full week of a brand-new decade! I hope that this week finds you full of excitement, optimism, and amazing plans for big things to come in the new year.

As we kick off the new year, it seems that a single topic is getting the most attention: Habits. My inbox and social media feeds have been filled to the brim with suggestions from every expert, influencer, and thought leader on the habits that made them successful. Frankly, every article seems to suggest the same few things. Wake up at 5 AM. Establish a morning routine. Budget your time. Get daily exercise.

Without a doubt, these are good suggestions. I won't disagree with any of them - in fact, I have incorporated many of them into my personal life. However, in everything I have read, one piece is missing: What happens when circumstances interrupt our habits? How do we sustain our positive momentum?

Even with all the planning and organization in the world, life is going to interrupt our best intentions. It's that timeless saying: If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans. Try as we might, factors beyond our control will derail our best efforts to succeed. This is not a curse, it's a fact of life that makes our accomplishments even more meaningful. You have never read a biography about someone whose success was easy. Our friend Chris Robinson likes to say, "They don't make movies about boring people." No matter the size of the achievement, the detours and roadblocks are the most interesting plot points. Achievers, then, are called to ask themselves how they can set themselves up for success in the face of these obstacles. The answer, for my money, is resilience. Specifically, resilience at work.

Why Resilience Matters

Regardless of industry, the modern workplace has become more complicated than ever. Marketplaces are shifting, customer demands are increasing, and systems are becoming more and more interdependent. Employees around the globe are being asked to do more with less. Oh, and your home life probably isn't slowing down anytime soon. There is a word for the compiled effect of these factors: Burnout.

Resilience gives us a framework for balancing the ever-increasing demands of our work and personal lives to deliver excellent results on a consistent basis.

Resilience is More than Self-Care

The first step to learning about resilience is forgetting what you have been told about resilience. Jamie Hansen, the founder of Alloy Solutions and a lifelong professional counselor, likes to say that resilience has a bad reputation in the workplace. "Almost everything I've seen on resilience comes across as fluffy. It's a pat on the head and a recommendation to take a long bath, get some exercise, or get some sleep." Personally, I want something a little more outcomes-oriented. I'm already bathing* and sleeping*; what else can I do?

Our preferred definition of resilience at work is based on the research of Australian organizational psychologist Kathryn McEwen, and is as follows: "Personal resilience at work is the capacity to manage the everyday stress of work while staying healthy, adapting and learning from setbacks, and preparing for future challenges proactively." Let's examine the different elements that comprise that definition:

  1. Staying Healthy - If you achieve success but lose your health, what have you achieved? Extended, unmanaged stress takes a physical toll on our bodies and will negatively impact our future.
  2. Adapting and Learning from Setbacks - Whatever the journey, we are bound to trip up along the way. This is natural, and we should use the opportunities to learn and (as necessary) change our approach.
  3. Preparing for Future Challenges Proactively - Have you ever been so wrapped up in one project that you neglected another one? Leaders have to maintain a perspective that examines the whole picture, not just one part.

*Note: If you are not already bathing and sleeping, please consider adding these to your routine in 2020. The results may surprise you.

Creating Resilience in Your Life

The most important thing to know about resilience is that it is not a static trait that certain people possess and others do not. Resilience is fluid; it is a spectrum where we may find ourselves highly resilient one day and hardly resilient another. According to McEwen's research, there are several underlying factors that influence resilience, and the strength of those factors will vary from person to person. Once we know the components of resilience, we can invest in them as we see fit.

Seven Components of Resilience

Kathryn McEwen's research identifies seven components of personal resilience in the workplace. The beauty of these components is that while all seven are beneficial, it is up to us to determine which areas are most helpful. Each person may have a unique combination of strong components that make up their personal resilience.

  1. Living Authentically - Ask yourself, do I have a clear understanding of my personal strengths and values? Am I able to manage my emotions and moods?

  2. Finding Your Calling - Can I link the work that I do to a higher purpose? Do I feel a sense of importance in the work I do?

  3. Maintaining Perspective - In the face of setbacks, can I remain optimistic and solution-focused? Can I manage negativity around me without falling into thinking traps (e.g.: being overly critical, predicting the future, or over-generalizing)?

  4. Mastering Stress - Do I have a self-care routine at work and at home? Can I manage my time to find a sense of work-life balance?

  5. Interacting Cooperatively - Do I know who to ask for feedback on my performance? Do I receive support for my performance at work? Do I give the same support to others?

  6. Staying Healthy - Am I getting enough exercise and sleep to support my body? Am I providing my body with the right nutrients to function properly?

  7. Building Networks - Do I have access to the support I need to perform at my highest level?


Take a moment to consider each of these areas in your professional life. What are your strongest areas? What are some areas that could use support? Keep in mind, while you should have some areas of strength, you may not need to be strong in every single component.

When you examine your own resilience, remember: this is not a question of "That person is resilient and I am not." That person may be resilient right now, and you may be going through a time where your resilience is low. Furthermore, two people may be resilient for different reasons.

Resilience as a Habit

Let's circle back to the habit discussion. It is the new year, after all, and we all want to inject a new resolution into our lives. Resilience gives us a framework for selecting the habits that benefit our long-term success. Looking to improve your health in 2020? I suppose you will be planning to exercise more and eat a healthier diet. Those habits will directly impact the Staying Healthy component of resilience at work. If you want to improve your capacity for Building Networks, you might set a resolution to attend more networking events or be more active on LinkedIn.

If resilience is what will sustain us for long-term success - and it is - then perhaps we should think again before we choose New Year's Resolutions (which, if we maintain will become habits) that do not sustain us. Instead, we should absolutely look for habits that will increase our individual resilience.



Looking to learn more about individual or team resilience at work? Contact our team at solutionsteam@alloystrong.com or 402-779-5846 and ask about a Resilience at Work Assessments and Toolkit today!

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