“Fall seven times and stand up eight.” – Japanese Proverb
People throw around a lot of different words and phrases to describe great leaders. You hear about things like work ethic, integrity, communication skills, vision, strategic thinker, etc. The list could go on and on, but most lists would be missing one of the most important words of all – resilience.
Resilience doesn’t necessarily sound glamorous. I think one of the reasons we don’t talk about resilience as much as we should is that, in order to demonstrate resilience, something bad has to happen. We have to experience some kind of setback before we can be resilient. Talking about setbacks isn’t necessarily pleasant, so we just gloss over it.
The reality, though, is that setbacks not only can happen, they will happen, and maybe lots of them. That’s just the way the world works. Technology will change, good people might leave, competitors might outsmart you, customers might change – whatever it is, there are going to be things that don’t go the way we’d like. We’d like to focus on preventing setbacks, and that sounds great, but you can’t prevent them all.
So what happens when bad stuff happens? Think about the organization you lead. When something doesn’t go according to plan, or maybe goes completely off the rails, what do people do? Is there a bunch of blaming and finger-pointing or self-pity? Or do people work through the initial pain and get to work on solutions? Organizations have personalities, just like people. Does your organization’s personality include resilience?
Now the more uncomfortable question. When something doesn’t go according to plan, or maybe goes completely off the rails, what do you do? Do setbacks beat you down for weeks at a time? Unfortunately, I’ve seen leaders who have a great plan and great ideas, but the instant something goes wrong they just shut down. It’s a combination of fear and embarrassment and panic and probably a bunch of other stuff. Sometimes they don’t seem to ever really recover.
I don’t have a magic bullet for “fixing” resilience. You can’t take a pill and instantly be a resilient leader. What you can do is be aware. Remind yourself in advance that things won’t go exactly the way you want, and that when that happens, all is not lost. Be brutally honest about the situation, then get to work on a solution.
Your resilience, or lack thereof, will be contagious. If you lead with resilience, others will follow. It won’t be easy, but it will be impactful. Get to work.