The greater the resilience, the greater the chance of success

Over the past year I have learned a lot about leadership in the context of creating transformational change. On the surface of it, we are in the process of building a new and redoing the foundations for how the site works and connects to every part of our business. The first part of the new experience is already live here: What is interesting in this journey is not the technical challenges (although they can be difficult at times), but changing how people collaborate to leverage the opportunities that technology provides.

The temptation is far too often to see technology as the solution to all problems and a way to realize efficiencies and gains, otherwise impossible to achieve. The reality, however, is that technology or the digital space never works in isolation – but is part of a larger picture, something that can enhance a formula for success, rather than be the sole source for it. The digital realm and technology is an enabler, but a poor substitute for leadership and competence, which ultimately are needed to realize the gains that technology can provide.

Zooming in on this conundrum entails realizing that success in in the digital space entails defining entire networks of collaboration, where individuals are increasingly not in control of the full experience, but each delivering an aspect of it and connected to one another in value chains and where influence, rather than control, rule supreme. What is challenging with this picture is that as the speed increases in interactions with consumers (whether they be fast order management and delivery and next-day shipping, or the ability to respond to conversations unfolding in social media in real-time, or producing content that taps into a relevant topic of conversation suddenly emerging), collaboration speed has to go up and coordination time needs to go down in order to keep up.

As anyone knows, the more people connected in a value chain, the greater the demand for coordination and the more important processes become in order to secure consistency and reliability of outcomes. However, processes are no replacement for leadership, because the rapid rate of change requires constant adaptation to make things work. Akin to a jazz band, processes become the base rhythm, but leadership connects the improvisation of band members into something that still sounds like music at the end. Crucially, however, this leadership is needed at every level, among every participant in the network of collaboration – and thinking leadership as purely the job of the people leader is flawed and ultimately unsustainable.

Stephen Covey has tried to capture this dilemma into the simple moniker that trust is at the heart of it all. While I generally agree with the ideas outlined further in his book The Speed of Trust, I do not think this is nearly rigorous enough to tackle the issues of large scale change. A prerequisite to work successfully with trust, is being able to understand yourself, be able to observe your thoughts and emotions in action, but crucially – not identify with them. Jan Bruce, in a recent article for Forbes, outlines how important resilience is for success, and more importantly, what the characteristics of resilience are. These characteristics are all a product of knowing yourself and others, and not identifying with your thoughts and emotions, but working with them to understand where they come from and how to handle them rather than be a victim of them.

 1. Emotion Regulation: the ability to control one’s emotion and maintain calm under adversity.

2. Impulse Control:
the capacity to moderate your behavior when you’re experiencing challenges so you don’t burn bridges.

3. Causal Analysis:
being able to look at all the causes of a particular problem and work out what you can control and what you can’t, so you can funnel energy into what you can change and forgive what you can’t.

4. Self-Efficacy:
a belief in yourself that you are competent and reliable. Or: the belief that you can solve problems and succeed.

5. Realistic Optimism:
the ability to be optimistic to the extent that your reality allows.

6. Empathy:
understanding what motivates other people, what they think and feel, and being able to put yourself in their shoes.

7. Reaching out:
a willingness and ability to take on opportunities that come your way.

These seven characteristics capture important behaviors that are essential to develop in individuals and teams at all levels, because they are prerequisites for the ability to extend your influence beyond purely the things you are in control of, and thus to lead and collaborate effectively. Good leaders are good at collaborating, because they take responsibility for their own behavior and accountability for a shared outcome. Therefore, to increase the chance of success, it starts with developing individual and team resilience, which springs from a deep understanding of self and others, and from this good leadership can emerge and thereby trust in self and others.

In this context we have benefited hugely from the work of Dr. Steve Peters, the chief psychiatrist behind the successful GB Olympic team and the winners of the last two Tours de France, Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome. His book, The Chimp Paradox, outlines a simple model for understanding how your mind works and how to work with it to deal with high-pressure situations and complex challenges, where your resilience is crucial to achieving success.

What we also discovered working with Dr. Peters’ team is that individuals and teams in the midst of transformational change have more in common with world-class athletes than one might think. Similar to world class athletes, many things are out of your control also in business, but the things that you are in control of (how you prepare and respond to each situation) and how resilient you are in the face of adversity is a greater predictor of success than your education, gender, nationality, age or experience. Not only have we learned more about ourselves and each other, but also how to manage the vast networks of collaboration and handle the pressures of this on individuals and the team. To embark on transformational change starts with the 7 characteristics of resilience. This creates a foundation where everyone can build these skills for greater individual and organizational impact. That’s where Covey is right, trust is key.

photo credit: Nimages DR via photopin cc

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Outstanding post! A while back, I was asked by a reporter what is most important in achieving resilience in a community. I told her there were five things: “Leadership; leadership; leadership; and the other two aren’t that important” [well, actually they are – connections and resources]. And as you point out, “leadership” isn’t the Leader but rather lots of people at all levels taking teh initiative to move things in a positive direction.

  2. Collaboration is the key. Failure to execute is the biggest problem faced by leaders, (we are all very competent at creating visions). There is one profoundly simple thing we can change that will dramatically improve execution – we need to create trust and get better at making and keeping commitments. It’s as simple as saying what you’re going to do and then doing what you said. Simple, but not easy.
    Scrutiny reveals that our common work norms do not support this principle. In fact, many common work practices actually get in the way. People make vague requests. Actual performers are unspecified. Delivery dates are proposed without confirmation – if they are mentioned at all. Agreements to deliver, when they are obtained, shift and derail without clear dialog. Expressions of satisfaction with the delivery, or of dissatisfaction, are absent. Closure is rarely achieved.
    Even worse than these mechanical flaws, we are all familiar with the attendant interpersonal breakdowns. Team members are silent about their cynicism toward a proposed request. Real engagement by employees is lacking, and there is little incentive for contributing any discretionary effort. People work on their favoured assignments and leave other tasks to decay. Low trust that deliveries will be met on time forces a need for backup systems and frequent check-ups by “management”.
    We all have accepted this dysfunction for a long time. Isn’t it time to disrupt the old system and try something new? Let’s get back to basics and recreate our working relations around the foundational principle of “say what you’re going to do, and do what you said”.
    Negotiating a commitment, rather than being coerced or given an assignment has powerful implications. Accountability is increased since the “Performer” has ownership over the commitment (because they had a real part in creating it). Clarity and transparency build trust between both parties. The “Requestor” confidence is increased many fold. The quality of the ensuing dialogue between performer and requestor removes vague assumptions and instead forms clear and realistic agreements. Our word creates a bond with the other person.

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