Facing Turbulence with Resilience

By Ama Marston and Stephanie Marston February 28, 2018
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Amid increasing turbulence in business and the world around us, the future of organizations lies with Type Rs—people and entities that individually and collectively turn challenges into opportunity, progress and innovation. These are the types of leaders, businesses and communities we write about in our new book, Type R: Transformative Resilience for Thriving in a Turbulent World (PublicAffairs, 2018). A Type R culture can be described as one in which shock absorbers enable people and organizations to cope with day-to-day stresses as well as seismic events. This equips them to thrive in an increasingly volatile world by providing a vehicle for navigating the demanding times in which we live and work.

A shift toward a Type R culture can be as simple as having one person introduce a new, compelling idea for addressing adversity that others—whether they're leaders, followers, agnostics or supporters of the shared will of the group—can build on.

We recommend several steps that organizations can take to boost their collective resilience, including the following:

--Assess your existing culture. One of the most significant factors in creating a Type R culture is understanding where you are today. Do you collectively buckle when there's a challenge, or do you feel confident that you will be able to overcome it? Often, analyzing your organization's response to past events can help identify your defaults or collective mindset.

Creating transformative resilience in your culture is about employing key Type R characteristics, such as adaptability, continual learning, purpose and healthy relationships, to leverage support and active engagement. What changes do you need to make to create a more Type R culture? Can these changes be included in your organization's planning and review processes so that you can track tangible progress in each of these areas?

--Hire for resilience. Research continues to show that many of the best leaders have developed their skills as a result of adversity. We know that exposure to some adversity, whether from mounting pressures or earth-shattering events, is needed to cultivate the resilience and growth that allows us to take those skills into future challenges. But a lot of it comes down to finding meaning in the midst of difficulties. Rather than asking generic interview questions, ask potential leaders or employees about the insights or meaning that they drew from difficult events and how those experiences have informed their subsequent thinking on managing stress.

--Create a collective mindset. Have senior leaders open a dialogue with employees about how they cope with stress, challenges and setbacks. Present concrete examples of how this has been done successfully in the past, and encourage open communication. As a leader, consider the unspoken standards about how things should be handled during challenging times. Do these norms reflect a common mindset and culture about how setbacks and difficult situations are addressed?

--Cultivate purpose and social impact. Recent research from EY (formerly Ernst & Young) shows that 75 percent of CEOs believe that purpose—not organizational mission, but a larger social purpose—is one of the keys to navigating disruptive change. A sense of purpose gives us a reason to aim for something and is especially important when we're confronted with adversity. Purpose also stretches us beyond our limited perspective and isolation and urges us to channel our energy in a focused and productive way.

Work with organizational leaders to shape job descriptions around each role's purpose and to create an overall sense of alignment within your organization. This is an opportunity for staff to have an impact beyond their own success or the work they undertake daily.

When senior leaders encourage a mindset and culture that embraces change as a basis for growth, an organization can more readily adapt, innovate and prosper. This begins with creating a safe space in which to identify the current mindset and then introducing a process, along with desired behaviors, to break down barriers and shift old ways of thinking about failure, adversity and stress. Doing so can be a catalyst for growth—the kind that will see your organization springing forward, rather than merely bouncing back, during turbulent times.

Ama Marston is an internationally recognized strategy and leadership expert. Stephanie Marston is a veteran psychotherapist, stress and work/life expert, and corporate consultant. 


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