Building resilience 6: Comments round up

Having finished what I wanted to say about Resilience, I thought it worth picking up on some of the great comments on the posts. 

The second post in the series was about setting your mindset away from “why is this happening?” and towards “what are we going to do?”. 

Steve commented along the lines that in high pressured environments, places in which safety and security, or millions of pounds, are genuinely on the line, the need to set your mindset this way is obvious. And so not that helpful really. 

Which is fair enough. But in some ways, it is where the lesson comes from. Emergency services in the middle of a multiple location incident don’t waste time wishing that the second fire hadn’t started. They prioritise, work out what they’re going to do and then get on and do it as best they can. 

Now. If this keeps happening over and over, something has to give. Emergency services, air traffic control, other critical systems units, set themselves up with shift patterns and rules that limit individual exposure to relentless pressures. 

Some of us have to do that ourselves though. 

Lyndsey commented that she often sees people who think they’re being resilient but are really just in “endurance” mode. Ploughing on, despite signs that a break is what is needed above all else. 

She’s so right when she says: Resilience is NOT endurance. 

Sometimes the answer to: What am I going to DO about it? is just… Stop. Breathe. Go home. Rest. Come back to it tomorrow. 

And as I said in Part 4 of the series on working your priorities, the stuff that makes you you, the stuff that recharges your batteries and resets your mindset is always important. And very rarely urgent. 

Whether it’s time with your kids, knitting, exercise, your special show you share with a friend or spouse… Make being you-you (not just work-you) a priority. 

The last comment I’ll reference was from Ellie on the important-urgent matrix mentioned in the post on priorities. She noted that sometimes everything is sitting in the “important and urgent” corner and mapping this out makes things feel more overwhelming. 

This is worth a post in itself. There are several things to do here. But for now I’ll offer one thought. 

You can only ever do one complicated thing at a time. So faced with a long list of “important and urgent” things, go through again and try to pick out the three MOST important and urgent things. Then go through THAT list and pick ONE to work on. Set yourself a short achievable goal, and work it. Then do the same with number two. Then again with number three. 

You’ll have identified a set of priorities and made progress. 

If you have trouble determining the most important, because they’re all important, just pick. You have to work on something. So choose and move it forward. 

You may not be able to change the tide of events that buffet you as you try to lead. But…

Set your mindset towards positive next-steps. 

Proactively manage your mental wellbeing. 

Make sure you’re working your priorities. 

And help your team do these things too. 

Work in this way and you’ll be building a firm foundation of resilience that will help you take things in stride and keep moving forwards. 

Thanks for reading this series and for the brilliant comments that have really made me think. 

Building resilience 5: Look after your team

In this series of posts on resilience I’ve put forward a three part prescription for your own resilience. 

First: Turn away from a victim mindset where your response to challenge is to throw up your hands, throw in the towel and ask “Why is this happening to me?” Instead get into the habit of meeting difficult moments with a pause to catch your breath and ask yourself “OK. Here we are. What am I going to do next?”

Second: Start thinking about your mental wellbeing on a sickness-wellness-fitness continuum. Practice recognising where you are on that spectrum and adjusting your self-expectations accordingly. And take steps to proactively move yourself towards the fitness end of the spectrum. 

Third: Stay on top of your priorities. Make sure you’re making time for work that is important but less urgent, and for the things that keep you grounded and sane. 

The final piece of the puzzle for this series of posts, is that as a leader, wherever you are in the hierarchy, keep an eye on your team in terms of all of the above. This is a key part of fulfilling John Adair’s idea that as a leader you have to pay attention to task, individuals and team

All the time, and especially when things are particularly busy, check in with the individuals you work with. Are they on top of things? How are they doing with the three-part prescription of mindset, mental wellbeing and priorities? If their balance is off, how can you help?

If you think someone needs some help, don’t try to be too clever. Just talk with them. Ask how they are. Ask how things are going. Ask if there’s anything you can do to help. You might be surprised. All it might take to really help is to give permission to go home an hour early. Or pick out a key priority from in-amongst a mass of deadlines and pressures. 

But as well as looking out for the individuals you work with, think about the resilience of the team. Is the team coming together to face challenge (not as a victimised minority, but) as a proactive  group? Does the team have time in its schedule to build its cohesiveness and communication? Does the team know what’s most important right now?

Care for the team’s wellbeing as much as you do for the individuals in the group, and you’ll be embedding resilience on every level. 

Click here for the last in this series on resilience in which I’ll pick up on some of great comments I’ve received.

Building resilience 4: Get your priorities straight

When work, emails, responsibilities, requests, deadlines pile in on top of us, the weight of it all can be hard to carry. And we all know what it feels like when that one extra straw comes in and the camel’s back starts creaking. 

Whatever role you’re in, wherever you are in the hierarchy, today’s highly-connected environment means the volume of incoming stuff can be overwhelming. We could all work 27 hours a day and still not get done everything that arrives with our name on it. 

In the face of this, it is absolutely vital that you have a strong sense of your priorities. In two different ways. 

First, you have to be clear on what work is really important and what is just busy-ness with your name on it. Think about things according to the Eisenhower matrix of urgent vs important matters. Make sure you’re spending enough time on the things that are important but less urgent. Make sure you’re working in your power zone, where your passions, market and expertise overlap. 

When you KNOW you’re doing work that matters, the stuff that it’s really important that YOU do, it is easier to worry less about the busy-work. When you have your priorities straight it’s easier to not sweat the small stuff. Because you know it’s the small stuff. 

Second, remember that the things which support your mental and physical health sit squarely in the important but not urgent corner of the Eisenhower matrix. 

When things get stressful it’s often easy to let those things slip, so you can put in the extra hours at the office to keep on getting stuff done. Every so often this is necessary. But if it becomes a pattern, pushing away the stuff that makes you you and keeps you sane, will only lead to you cracking under the pressure. 

However busy you are, however much stuff is going on, it is absolutely OK to commit to an hour of exercise a day. Or that 15 minute meditation period every lunchtime. Or the daily ritual of your kids dinner and bath time. 

Making this sort of self-care commitment does two things. It supports your wellbeing directly. And it forces you to keep on top of your other priorities. You find you’ll be saying to yourself… “I can only do two more things, because I have to read the kids a story… So I’ll do these two, because they’re the most important.”

Keeping on top of your priorities, taking proactive steps to build your mental wellbeing and turning your mindset away from victim-think towards responsibility is my three part prescription for building resilience. 

Click here for Part 5 of this series, where we’ll think about applying these ideas to your team as well as yourself. 

Building resilience 3: Manage your mental wellbeing

My left knee is bothering me. I think I overdid it in the football game this weekend. I’m going to back off at the gym for the next day or so, give it a chance to heal up.


I’ve got a really heavy head cold. Its gotten worse and worse. I’ve got that really important meeting at 10am, but after that I think I just need to go home and sleep. Or I’ll be useless for the rest of the week too.

We’re quite used to cutting ourselves some slack when it comes to our physical health. Injuries and ailments lead us to deliberately “rest and recover”. We also take steps to make ourselves fitter and stronger, knowing that sickness is going to come. 

In the third part of this short series on resilience I’m going to argue strongly that the same should apply for our mental health and capacity for handling complexity.

You can think of your physical and mental health as sitting on a sickness-wellness-fitness continuum. And where you are on this spectrum changes from day to day.

When you feel great, able to take on the world, leap tall buildings and handle the most intricate of political and emotional minefields, you’re sitting squarely in the fitness end of things.

When even small decisions take huge effort, you really don’t want to open your email and the just thought of a conversation is exhausting, you’re at the sickness end. 

In terms of your physical capability, you can think of “fitness” as a hedge against “sickness”. Eating right, sleeping well and exercising all move you into the fitness end of the continuum so that bad days move you down a bit into “wellness” (rather than from wellness down to sickness). The fitter you are the faster you recover from injury and illness and the more you are able to handle complex physical demands.

The exact same thinking applies to mental health and capability. When you’re feeling “well”, don’t settle for it. Do things to pro-actively move your mental state towards “fitness”. Whatever works for you. Time with a good book. That ten minute coffee by yourself to reflect on the day to come. Silly cat videos on the internet. Just make a point to build proactive mental health improvement time into your schedule.

When walking in the mountains with my Dad he would always tell me to put my gloves on BEFORE my hands got cold. 

Same thing. Get physically and mentally fit BEFORE you face adversity.

And also… Physical and mental wellbeing are powerfully linked to each another. Eating right, sleeping well and exercising all build mental fitness as well as physical fitness. Taking small steps to improve how you go about these three things will bring enormous benefits.

Now. When you have a day towards the sickness end of things, give yourself a break. Notice it. Accept it. Take steps to rest and recover mentally. Just the same as you would with the dodgy knee or the heavy cold. This doesn’t have to mean taking time off work. But on sickness days, do your least complicated tasks and deal with the simplest things on your plate. Save the tough stuff for when you’re better able to cope.

In terms of building resilience then, the message here is: be proactive about strengthening your mental wellbeing. You’ll be building emotional and psychological fitness, that will mean you’re better able to handle the complexity inherent in all leadership.

Click here for Part 4 of the series, where we’ll talk about priorities.

Building resilience 2: Move away from “victim” mindset

Stuff happens. All the time. 

When asked what would most likely blow his government off course, Prime Minister Harold MacMillan replied “Events, dear boy. Events.”

When you’re trying to lead (from wherever you are in your organisation) you will feel the winds of events more powerfully than those around you. 

You’ve planned your approach. You know you need this much time to get this really important thing done. And then… the key person on your team becomes unwell and is off for two weeks. Or your boss changes her mind and throws a curveball new priority into the mix that needs to be done right now. 

It would be really easy to throw up your hands and throw in the towel. Or at least say something like…

“Why does this always happen to me?”

But do you see the “victim-think”? It sounds like your success is governed by external things you can’t control and when they move against you, you’re bound to lose. 

Two things. 

First… This is completely utterly true. If your business is selling scampdoodles and the government suddenly bans scampdoodles… You’re in trouble. 

But. Second. You have a choice how you react to that situation. You can throw up your hands. Or you can get your head in the game and work out what to do next. 

I’ve talked about asking better questions before. Using John Miller’s QBQ idea to switch from “why does this always happen to me?” to “what am I going to DO about it?”

If you get into the habit of reframing situations in this way, you move away from seeing events as buffeting you unfairly, to seeing them as a normal part of the landscape you’re navigating. You move from seeing yourself as a victim of circumstance, to the realisation that you’re responsible for charting a course through the circumstance.

In other words, you’re taking big steps to building…

the capacity to recognise the majority of difficulties as normal, and the possession of a mindset and collection of approaches to handle complexity and challenge positively and pro-actively.

I think that’s a strong resilience mindset.

Click here for Part 3 of this series: Managing your mental wellbeing where I talk about a sickness-wellness-fitness continuum, judging where you are and modifying your approach accordingly.

Building resilience 1: Introduction

Do you like “Resilience” as a term? And recognise the need to “build resilience” in yourself and in your team? Some people don’t like the word…

The traditional definition is usually something like this:

Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.

The trouble is, this has a tendency to set us in a “victim” mindset. The implication is that work and life are full of setbacks and nastiness, that we need to be ready for. It primes our subconscious thinking that things will be tough. Thus making it more likely they will be.

So lets look at it another way.

Slightly reframed definition:

Resilience is the capacity to recognise the majority of difficulties as normal, and the possession of a mindset and collection of approaches to handle complexity and challenge positively and pro-actively.

So for me, in four parts:

1. Building resilience is about setting your mindset away from “victim” (by recognising that complexity and challenge are normal) and towards a “responsibility” to deploy best effort to sort things out as they arise.

2. Building resilience is about recognising where you are on a sickness-wellness-fitness continuum in terms of your underlying mental health, your physical wellbeing, and your capacity for engaging with complicated issues. And taking steps to move yourself towards, or keep yourself in, the “fitness” end of the spectrum.

3. Building resilience is about prioritising your efforts, ensuring you have time and space to handle trouble when it arises and that you make time for the things that make you you.

4. Building resilience in your team is about noticing where people are in terms of all of the above, supporting them while they think about themselves in these terms and providing whatever help you can as they implement strategies to improve.

I’m going to write about these things  in a short series of posts about resilience. 

Click here for Part 2 of this series: Moving away from a victim mindset.