The Hardest Part Of A Crisis? Learning To Renew Resiliency Over Time

July 29, 2020


The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted almost every person on earth. It has disrupted normal life, including many of us working from home and then to compound that significant change, many have needed to have their home become their children’s classroom. It has caused shortages of products from hand sanitizers, disinfecting wipes, and toilet paper. Very few people have escaped its impact.

We have been monitoring and measuring resilience for several years and have noticed a significant decline in the last few months for many people. This should not be a surprise given the magnitude of this global pandemic.

In the past, the solution for most problems was to work smarter, harder, or put in more time at work.  We all knew that if we just put in more effort, we could always improve the situation. Heeding today’s advice to stay home, avoid social contact, and wear a mask feels more like we are avoiding problems rather than solving them. Most everyone early this year had a fair level of confidence in what would most likely happen. We had plans for the future, but suddenly all those plans have been canceled. The result is that most people are swimming in uncertainty.

If there ever was a time when resilience was needed, it’s now, but the combination of uncertainty and lack of control have increased anxiety and stress. Stress and anxiety, combined with uncertainty, inevitably reduces resilience in most people. Much of the conventional wisdom for improving resiliency is not helping. After researching results from thousands of leaders, we discovered five key actions that show evidence of rebuilding resilience.

In the resiliency study we conducted, one of our respondents said, “I am not sure the self-assessment is measuring accurately. I know I am a very resilient person, but I got a negative score on the self-assessment.” We followed up by asking our colleague a few questions.

1.     Have you had any anxiety or concerns lately about your future, your health, your family or the ability of your firm to survive this crisis? “Yes, I am very concerned about my family and our business.”

2.     Has this just been an occasional thought or has this been continuously on your mind, kind of a nagging problem? “I think about it all the time, constantly.”

3.     Are you clear about the future and what is likely to be the situation next month? “No, nothing is very clear. At first, I thought this would be over in a few weeks, but now I have no idea when this will end.”

Rather than being an exception, this person’s responses seem closer to being the rule among the majority of respondents.

As we analyzed our current data, resilience and self-confidence have declined. What is clear from our analysis is that the combination of an uncertain future, lack of control, anxiety, and stress negatively impacts both resilience and self-confidence. We know that lower resiliency has a significant impact on the effectiveness of leaders. Looking at 360-degree assessment data from 505 leaders, who were evaluated on their resiliency, we found that those in the top quartile were at the 81st percentile on their overall leadership effectiveness rating. Those below the top quartile had overall leadership effectiveness ratings at the 40th percentile. In other words, they were half as effective.


How to Renew Resiliency

Looking at data, we identified five critical behaviors that had a significant positive impact on improving resiliency.

1.     Willingness to Change. The pandemic has necessitated substantial changes in almost every organization. Many people are now doing their work from home. Firms that have experimented with allowing employees to work from home have found that while some people preferred working from home, others disliked the experience. In today’s environment, most people do not have the choice, so being more willing to change has become a critical skill. Identify some key skills that can help you to thrive during this crisis. Perhaps having a little downtime during the crisis might allow you the opportunity to develop or improve a leadership skill. Making any improvement during this crisis will help you to rebuild your resilience and your self-confidence.

2.     Serving/Helping Others. It is easy for most to get caught up in their problems and frustrations only to have their worries dissipate by helping or providing service to others. Assisting others makes us feel more capable and essential.

3.     Inspirational Communications. We all know that talking to another person helps. Expressing your concerns and frustrations to others is often the first step in making things better. Finding the opportunity to share inspiring messages will not only help others, but it will help you feel more inspired.

4.     Openness to Alternative Views. There are, right now, a variety of different perspectives and some strong opinions. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Being open to listening to different perspectives can help a person evaluate alternatives in an informed way. It’s been interesting to observe that as people became better knowledgeable about concepts like “flattening the curve,” it impacted their behavior. Strategy and logic are important in giving people a reason to stay home and socially distance themselves from others. No doubt, before this crisis is over, there will be additional perspectives that we need to understand.

5.     Being Trusted by Others. When others do not trust you, it is hard to have confidence in yourself. When others believe in you and trust that you have their best interests at heart, your resilience is much higher. Trust is built on a three-legged stool where the first leg is positive relationships. We trust people we like and distrust people we do not like. Improving relationships will improve trust. The second leg is consistency. Be careful that you always deliver on the commitments you make to others. Too many people over promise and under deliver. The third leg is good judgment and expertise. We trust people that have insights and knowledge that others lack. Take the time to share your knowledge with others. Improving the trust that others have in you will increase your resilience.

There are two different approaches to increase your resilience. Being above average on all five of the behaviors listed above raises your resilience level to the 80th percentile. By being excellent at three (excellent being at 90th percentile of performance) raised resilience to the 88th percentile. As this crisis eventually goes away, resilience may naturally rebound over time, but getting a head start on rebuilding your resiliency can have a guaranteed positive impact on both you and your career today.

—Joe Folkman
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