How the Best Leaders Develop Resilience in Others

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Marcus Buckingham and the ADP Research Institute released yet another installment of employee engagement research last week. This time, they set out to examine global levels of engagement and workplace resilience in 2020 and the drivers of each.

We’ll talk more about engagement another time, but today I want to focus on resilience or the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.

Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.

The ADP Research Institute’s research revealed two main drivers of resilience which are:

  1. Resilience is a reactive state of mind created by exposure to suffering.
  2. The more tangible the threat, the more resilient we become.

In the context of leadership, Buckingham says, “Combine findings one and two, and you realize that we humans do not function well when our senior leaders gloss over the reality. We don’t need them to sugarcoat in order to make us feel better. It won’t. It is far more frightening, and damaging to the psyche, to downplay tough or dark realities, or to pretend they don’t exist, because then we allow our imaginations to run riot, and who knows what kind of demons we can conjure in our mind’s eye.”

So, how can leaders help their teams develop resilience?

First and foremost, we definitely do not need to manufacture suffering. Regardless of the industry or business you are in, 2020 has inevitably thrown some tough times your way as a result of the economic crisis stemming from the global pandemic.

Instead, focus on providing tangible exposure to said suffering.

Too many leaders think their role is to shield team members from reality by painting an unrealistically rosey picture of tough times. Instead, Buckingham says resilience levels increase the more intimately exposed to that suffering your team members are. “This strongly suggests that we discover our resilience only when we are forced to meet unavoidable suffering full in the face. It’s when we face that reality, and see ourselves and how we respond to it, that we find the basis for resilience.”

In addition to transparently exposing our teams to tough realities, we develop resilience in our team members when we get specific about what suffering means for them.

Buckingham says, “Instead of downplaying the reality, tell it to us straight. Don’t rush us back to normal in an effort to assuage our fear and anxiety. Instead, describe in detail what the threat actually is. Show us up close and personal what real-world changes we will have to make in our lives, and tell us the truth about how these changes are designed to protect us. Show us in practice what our ‘new normal’ is and why, and then trust us to figure out how to live happily and healthily inside this new normal.”

Instead of downplaying the reality, tell it to us straight. Don’t rush us back to normal in an effort to assuage our fear and anxiety. Instead, describe in detail what the threat actually is.

In summary, give your team members more credit for their ability to handle bad news. In doing so, the research suggests that you’ll find they are much more prepared to handle the next challenge that comes along.

Perhaps more importantly, this will garner increased trust in you, the leader. And you cannot effectively lead others, in good times or bad, unless your followers trust you in a meaningful way.

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Talent Management Consultant | I help startups and small businesses design and implement HR solutions at AdjunctLeadership.com → Email course: bit.ly/3h8iUC7

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