It isn't all about resilience

Richard Martin




The best managers also open themselves up to others’ empathy and compassion and share their own emotions in response, which requires the willingness and ability to feel and show vulnerability. Doing so will help maintain a leader’s emotional stability and build a close support network that is essential, especially during turbulent times.

Last week I had a little wobble. Something that in itself wasn’t that big a deal set me off and I felt anxious and scared for a little while, and I cried a bit too. It lasted an hour or so probably then I shook myself down, had a biscuit and a little chat with myself and worked out what I needed to do next (which partly involved another biscuit).

This wasn’t because I was not resilient enough.

Resilience is one of those words that gets over used and can sometimes feel like an accusation of weakness. We deliver something we sometimes call resilience training, but I would never want it to be thought that resilience alone is the answer. We call it that because there isn't a better word for it, at least not one I have found, even if using that buzz word makes me shudder every time.

I like to think of resilience as being about how big a bucket you have. And how big your bucket is at any point in time is not just down to you. Genetics, Winter, Covid-19, political uncertainty will all play a part. Yes we can try and maximise the size of our bucket by having good sleep hygiene, eating well, limiting our alcohol intake, seeking connection and purpose and much more besides, but if the world is a scary and uncertain place and I am not allowed to see people and have a hug once in a while then my bucket is just going to be smaller than normal and it will fill up and sometimes overflow more quickly than it might otherwise. And that is not all my fault. 

So, we need right now to be more aware of how each of us are and forgiving if it all becomes a bit much at times. That is OK and not a sign of personal weakness or a lack of moral fibre.  

From a work perspective, the culture in our workplaces will have a huge impact on our resilience, on our bucket size. If we work in a psychologically safe culture, where we feel included and accepted for who we are, as much when we get it wrong as when we get it right, then this will increase our resilience. If we feel constantly on edge, unsafe, excluded, bullied even, this will have the opposite effect. And of course it is not the intent that matters in that regard, but the impact, so we may want to do some work to find out how our people are feeling and what might be impacting their resilience, and whether there is anything we can be doing about it.

One final thought – be careful what you wish for. Resilience is defined variously as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness; the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity. Yes we want a bit of that sometimes. I think we also want something else though, some vulnerability, and the ability to reflect on and be affected and changed by difficulties, and not just to bounce back, even if that is a bit wobbly and uncertain at times. Perhaps building a resilient workplace is about allowing for that very wobble, and a well stocked biscuit tin.

Find out about our workplace wellbeing strategy work here.

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