More than sheer grit

There is no quick fix for building resilience; the key is to form resilience habits. HRD chats to one leader who is helping organisations to proactively develop resilience from the top down

More than sheer grit
There is no quick fix for building resilience; the key is to form resilience habits. HRD chats to one leader who is helping organisations to proactively develop resilience from the top down

The word resilience is being thrown around with abandon in many organisations today, so it’s overdue for a recalibration of what it means. What exactly do we mean by resilience and is it being used correctly? HRD asked Shelley Winter, director and global head of coaching at YSC, for her thoughts.

“Unfortunately, the word is often misused based on outdated so-called role models of resilience that portray behaviours or ways of working that actually diminish resilience over time,” she says. “Some examples that we’ve seen prevail within organisation cultures are beliefs around not showing emotion indicating resilience, beliefs that going it alone shows strength or that perseverance no matter what is admirable.”

In fact, resilience is about more than just bouncing back. Bouncing back is not a sustainable strategy in today’s world and workplace where change and disruption is constant. It is also broader than just
well-being. While well-being interventions are important, constructive thinking and behaviour strategies are just as important to grow and adapt.

It is also often talked about as a fixed trait: you are either resilient or not.

“This is not true and this belief is one of the biggest barriers to increasing your resilience,” Winter says.

Indeed, research on child and adult development shows that resilience can be developed – if you know which personal resources to target.

So how should resilience be defined? YSC defines it thus:

Resilience is the ability to grow, adapt and perform through times of change and challenge. Resilience is about thriving through difficult and unpredictable times, not just surviving.

The YSC model – developed through combined academic research and client insights – denotes five resilience resources (Support, Confidence, Striving, Recovery and Adapting) that are all developable. Therefore, YSC takes the concept of resilience a step further and has defined Leadership Resilience as a collective resource that leaders can develop in themselves and in those around them.

“Resilience is not a nice-to-have or something that is only needed under extreme adversity or trauma,” Winter says. “It is a core business competence that every leader should learn about for themselves and for their people.”

An antidote to disruption?

Constant change and disruption mean employers are in a near constant state of catch-up. It’s little wonder both leaders and employees can feel overwhelmed. Winter says it’s not unusual to hear statements from leaders along the lines of: “My people aren’t resilient enough”, or “I don’t know if they have the resilience for another change” – without realising it is something they can develop in their people.

“In fact, when leaders have the opportunity to learn how they can develop it in others there is a mixture of relief and enthusiasm that they now have some strategies to address a growing challenge. Putting your head down to survive through change used to be a workable strategy to get through change – when change was isolated to one-off events,” Winter explains. 

Today, she adds, it’s difficult to find an organisation that does not have multiple overlapping changes taking place, and at least one of those changes will be considered transformational.

“Organisations have historically taught change management skills and processes, but have not equipped leaders and their people with the strategies to personally manage themselves through change, or enable and grow their people through the change. In fact, in our view, developing resilience is likely to become a core leadership capability,” Winter says.

Leaders need to be targeted for two reasons. Firstly, while resilience is needed at all levels, leaders are in the unique position to build resilience in their team members as well as their own personal resilience. They are often leading change – so cultivating resilience within their team goes hand in hand with leading the mechanics of change. Secondly, the five YSC resilience resources will link in some way to cultural norms that are often implicitly portrayed and reinforced by leaders.

Taking sustainable action

By creating a broader view of resilience, YSC has developed practical workplace applications that enhance performance. The company’s Leadership Resilience interventions are based around the YSC Leadership Resilience model, which helps leaders to redefine resilience for themselves, understand the importance of the five resilience resources and then self-audit where their neglected or underused resources lie. YSC then helps them to identify personal and leadership resilience habits that they want to create and maintain, and provide the on-going mechanisms to do so. This learning approach is utilised across a number of interventions depending on client need but can include executive team workshops, leadership programs, cross-functional workshops and one-on-one coaching.

“We know that sometimes what is needed is high-touch one-on-one work, and other times organisations need a scalable option where people can use technology to support their learning,” Winter says.

For example, one organisation that put 80 people through YSC’s online program noticed that the cohort collectively shifted their mindsets around resilience. Leaders reported different corridor conversations and colleagues recognised each other’s efforts to jointly raise levels of resilience.

These opportunities are often connected to unhelpful beliefs or competing attention on their time. The ratings are followed by developmental tips and suggestions that give leaders some practical ideas around building new strategies.

1. They reach for a quick fix
“The pressures that we experience and the increased need for resilience lead us to reach for a quick answer. Leaders bring in one-off interventions and expect change.”

2. They confine resilience interventions to mental health support 
“In a recent talk that I did to 100-plus HR leaders, the majority of their organisations provided exercise classes, nutrition advice, and education on mental health issues. Almost half the group had tried introducing mindfulness programs. These are all important and necessary for resilience in terms of managing our physical and mental energy, but they are not enough. Leaders and their people also need thinking, learning and social strategies to deal with increased performance pressures and change.”

3. They expect people to act once they know what’s good for them 
“Interventions that are purely educative are not enough to create change – organisational scaffolding and ongoing focus is needed to result in changes that will sustainably increase resilience.”

Forming habits

Undertaking a course or undertaking a psychometric assessment is one thing, but taking those learnings into the  workplace can be another matter. Winter agrees that it’s easy for people to avoid changing behaviours, even when they know that such a change might be beneficial – that’s why YSC uses its expertise in the psychology of change to facilitate the creation of new life-long resilience habits. This is in part by connecting the concept of resilience to habit building and, by providing prompts, tracking, feedback loops and support, YSC ensures that the behavioural goals are:
  • Pragmatic (integrated into everyday life and existing routines)
  • Personal (linked to their identity and personal rhythms)
  • Proactive (they feel in control and own their efforts)
The scalable program takes habit building a step further by leveraging the social learning and support that a cohort provides.

“Seeing and hearing that others are experiencing similar challenges helps to normalise the impact of increased change at a personal level, and participants learn from each other’s strategies and efforts to create new resilience habits,” Winter says.

A cohort approach also leads to cultural insights – one organisation may discover their strengths within Support but significant gaps in their Adapting behaviours that limit growth through change.

Unsurprisingly, a YSC study of 400 leaders showed that high scores on the Leadership Resilience Profiler correlate positively with high scores on work engagement, job satisfaction, and organisational commitment. 

It’s apparent that when employees feel strong and confident about their ability to deliver, even in adverse circumstances, they are far more likely to be effective and committed. And highly engaged people are more likely to innovate and devise creative solutions to overcome the seemingly insurmountable. In today’s business world, this is more critical than ever.

YSC’s key client offerings include cutting-edge services and thought leadership in the arenas of board and CEO development and succession planning; executive assessment; executive coaching; leadership development; leadership frameworks and culture change; diversity and inclusion; executive team development; and emerging talent and identifying potential. For further details please visit:

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