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Resilience and Out-of-Process Events

I had lunch with Gina. She was diagnosed 10 years ago at age 40. Breast cancer. Stage 3c, meaning advanced. Nineteen of the twenty-five lymph nodes the doctors found were malignant. She underwent surgery, 6 chemo, and 33 radiation sessions. Each chemo session left her sick and nauseous for a week. It left a metallic taste in her mouth, and she could not eat anything.

“What was the toughest part of all this?” I asked. “The day I found out!” she replied. “My heart fell to the floor. I cried. And cried some more. Then, it stopped there. I told myself. I already have cancer. I am not going to make it worse by feeling sorry for myself. I am going to do this. I am going to get myself well.” That is resilience.

Resilience is the ability to deal with, recover, and grow from adversity. In a corporate setting, it is the ability to deal with, recover, and grow from “out-of-process" events. Any organization has out-of-process events. These are events for which a process has not been defined. For example, an overturned bus blocking delivery vans can mean no food to sell at a fast-food outlet. This is an out-of-process event or, in our definition of resilience, the “adversity”. Resilient people, because of the way they think and behave, approach the problem to solve it. The non-resilient ones, withdraw from the problem to avoid it. Company growth comes from those who habitually view out-of-process events as opportunities, and proactively step forward to solve them.

There are several drivers of resilience. One model for workplace resilience identifies four component skills: confidence, adaptability, purposefulness, and social support (Robertson, 2015). The U.S. Army and the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center have jointly designed a resilience model for the U.S. Army Master Resilience Trainer course. This 10-day program teaches resilience skills for soldiers. The program develops six core competencies to build resilience and prepares one for adversity (Reivich and Seligman, 2011). These competencies work not only for soldiers preparing for war but also for you and me going through work and life’s troughs. The competencies are:

“(a) self-awareness – identifying one’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, and patterns in each that are counterproductive;

(b) self-regulation – the ability to regulate impulses, thinking, emotions, and behaviors to achieve goals, as well as the willingness and ability to express emotions;

(c) optimism – noticing the goodness in self and others, identifying what is controllable, remaining wedded to reality, and challenging counterproductive beliefs;

(d) mental agility – thinking flexibly and accurately, perspective taking, and the willingness to try new strategies;

(e) character strengths – identifying the top strengths in oneself and others, relying on one’s strengths to overcome challenges and meet goals, and cultivating a strength approach in one’s unit; and

(f) connection – building strong relationships through positive and effective communication, empathy, willingness to ask for help, and willingness to offer help” (Reivich and Seligman, 2011).

I define a resilience model with five elements. This model identifies the factors that enhance personal resilience:

1. Purposefulness – having a purpose worth pursuing makes you resilient.

2. Optimism – believing in your ability to bring about a better future outcome makes you resilient.

3. Flexibility – being able to assess challenges from different perspectives, find opportunities in them, and solve them creatively makes you resilient.

4. Self-control – being able to regulate thoughts, feelings, and behavior makes you resilient.

5. Social support – being able to rely on support from others makes you resilient.

Resilience is a trait that uniquely sets us apart from robots and their artificial intelligence algorithms. Resilient people are the ones who push an enterprise forward to deliver and grow. Organizations should, therefore, invest in resilience-building programs. Resilience is good for people, and it is good for business.


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