What Doesn’t Kill You Doesn’t Make You Stronger

The truth is: what doesn’t kill you usually makes you weaker.

The Foundations of Resiliency: Part 1

Unless you have the resiliency to convert trauma into new strength, simply repeating the motivational platitude of “what doesn’t kill you …” won’t make you stronger.

Resilience is a critical requirement for a sustainable organizations and a sustainable life. Resiliency enables us to convert challenges into growth, disaster into reinvention, failures into opportunities for improvement.

Resiliency is not about just bouncing back. It is about learning and bouncing higher.

Is your organization resilient? If a competitor, an employee, an angry customer, or the economy, gives you a near-fatal mauling, would your organization survive, limping but still moving? Or will you thrive, smarter and stronger than ever?

The difference is resilience.

In her doctoral thesis on resiliency in operating room nurses, Brigid Gillespie identified four of predictors of resiliency. They are: Hope, Self-Efficacy, Coping, and Competence.

The Heart of Resiliency is Hope

Hope is not a vague sense that things might get better. True hope is rooted in two things:

  • Clarity – clear and positive vision of the future; and,
  • Confidence – the belief we have what it takes to get to that future.

To nurture hope, as leaders we must provide clarity about the future, and broadcast the belief we have what it takes to get there.

Provide clarity…

Our sense of confidence in the future is quickly eroded when our goals are vague or confusing. As a leader, set clear goals and describe them vividly. That clarity helps us maintain momentum when we are hit by headwinds.

Let us do what we do best…

Maximize opportunities for people to do what they do best, as much of the time as possible. The more time we spend outside our sphere of confidence and competence, the less sure we become.

Asking your best systems tech to ‘pitch in’ by spending more time in business development may be a sure way to make her feel out of her zone of confidence. And when she crashes as she very likely will, her sense of hopefulness diminishes. This may seem simplistic, but Marcus Buckingham’s work with Gallup has shown only one-third of employees world-wide agree with the statement “I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.”

Operating at the edges of our competence creates opportunity for growth, but requires careful management. When we operate too far out of our core strengths we risk eroding our sense of agency and confidence.

Play to strengths. Cross-training and a culture that supports growth through risk and ‘safe’ failures in a high-trust environment, are powerful. But the moment that emphasis eclipses the more important focus on reinforcing confidence through daily opportunities for people to operate inside their core strengths, we are eroding the resiliency of our organization.

Break it down…

To nurture confidence scaffold every activity, every goal, and every change process. Then reinforce incremental successes with reinforcing feedback.

Scaffolding is mapping larger processes onto discrete and dependent steps. Remember that great English teacher you had who helped you understand that every story is written one sentence at a time? The music teacher who showed you how mastering isolated techniques and elements made big pieces less daunting? Those teachers were scaffolding.

Combined with reinforcing feedback, scaffolding is a powerful way to increase confidence. Smaller steps are easier to complete successfully. When early success is reinforced with positive feedback, a snowball effect is created, increasing our sense of confidence in larger, more complex challenges.

Scaffolding with reinforcing feedback supports hopefulness. It fosters the powerful idea that no task is too large if broken down, and builds the habit of success at each step. Winning becomes a habit.

With the resiliency born of hopefulness, what doesn’t kill us can make us stronger. We and our team members will be more prepared to take on larger calculated risks, and if there are failures, we remain hopeful, learn and bounce back higher.

The rest of the series

About the Author

Clemens Rettich

I am an organizational consultant and educator with over 20 years of experience in supporting the improvement of organizations and organizational management across North America. I work at the intersection of people, systems, and change with a human-culture-first mindset that values joy, innovation, and collaboration. As a teaching professor at the University of Victoria's Peter B. Gustavson School of Business, I teach in the areas of leadership and organizational behaviour. In my work I explore the nature of the human organization in a post-colonial, post-technocratic society. I hold an MBA (Leadership and Organizations), and an undergraduate degree in music (Musicology, Performance). My areas of practice include management and leadership, organizational behaviour, process improvement, organizational change, and talent development and training.
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