There’s much more to resilience than simply bouncing back from adversity. We outline how YSC is helping organisations develop strategies that enable individuals to build inner strength at a time of constant change and challenges.

Organisations and their leaders have historically dealt with change events as definitive moments in time. But in these days of multiple and simultaneous change, it is unsurprising that resilience has been identified as an essential trait for survival and adaptation. When change and challenge are enduring and boundless, it’s no longer enough to simply ‘bounce back’, or put your head down and ‘soldier on’.

Fortunately, recent evidence from the fields of positive psychology and child psychology indicates that resilience is both developable and much broader in scope. People can learn to be resilient through their experiences by developing qualities that facilitate coping, adaption and recovery from stress. This opens up crucial possibilities for any institution undergoing change.

Military and childhood learnings

Like many things in psychology, initial thought leadership in this space stemmed from the military. In 2009, a collaboration between the father of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, and the US Department of Defense was established to find ways to reduce the enormous toll in human and financial terms of soldiers returning from the front with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They invested in a programme called Psychological Fitness: providing personnel with tools and strategies to both prepare for tough times and to apply when experiencing stress or dealing with significant change.

Examining how children gain resilience has also given us some insight to adult development – in particular, how they develop protective factors such as optimism, self-esteem and persistence. A big recurring factor is positive relationships with family, friends and community.

Across these different lines of inquiry, we can see that resilience is a combination of social, cognitive and behavioural strategies. That is good news for leaders, who may have observed that people experiencing ‘change fatigue’ have a limit to how many times they can bounce back.

The limits of current resilience training

Many large corporations are now starting to invest in resilience training. However, these programmes often focus solely on well-being interventions such as mindfulness, exercise, or energy management. Strategies that facilitate physical, emotional or mental recovery are always beneficial, but they just form one of the building blocks of resilience.

From our first-hand experience of leaders in large corporations, we have learned that many still think of resilience in terms of sheer grit, or their ability to plough on without showing emotion. This is limiting for both themselves and their people – because relying on reactive coping mechanisms and pure persistence leads to burn out. We are emotional, social creatures and denying those aspects of change and challenge limits our ability to learn through the experience.

The YSC Leadership Resilience Profiler™

By combining lines of academic inquiry with our experience of leaders and their stories, we have constructed the YSC Leadership Resilience Profiler™ – and a diagnostic that underpins that model.

YSC’s Leadership Resilience Profiler™ takes a three-phased approach to building resilience.

  • Preparing individuals to deal with challenge and change by building social support and developing personal confidence.
  • Developing optimistic pathways that will enable them to keep striving when faced with challenges – and coping strategies to enable them to recover.
  • Analysing what has been learned from the experience, and adapting and modifying goals and behaviour accordingly to focus on future success. “Failure is a nearly inevitable part of our work”, observed Seligman. In fact, it is an inevitable aspect of life. Yet many people and organisations do not recognise, diagnose and learn from mistakes and at times incur hefty human or organisational tolls as a result.

Building resilience across the organisation

Resilience isn’t just a resource that individuals develop for themselves; leaders play a key role in fostering it in others. The Profiler also offers strategies enabling leaders to develop resilience in their people in an integrated way.

The tool is structured to allow individuals to self-assess, or it can be used as a multi-rater evaluation to gather other people’s perceptions. It can also be used as a team or organisational audit, with the results providing a platform for coaching, leadership development, team or organisational interventions.

The results so far…

Trying times can lead to insecurity, unhappiness, low output and organisational stagnation. It is not surprising, therefore, that organisations are starting to be proactive and investing in the resilience of their people.

Although it is a new field, the work we have done is already reaping positive rewards. Clients report increased productivity, innovation, engagement and the development of greater adaptive behaviours in the face of adversity – increasing their ability to work through change. This requires a shift from the passive response of seeing change and challenge as ‘something that has happened to me’, to the active response: ‘this is how I am going to tackle this challenge’.

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 seems almost self-evident: when employees feels 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.

Our feedback suggests that this intuitive and pragmatic model resonates at all levels. The sense of energy around future possibilities is palpable among executives and emerging leaders alike.