Are You Resilient? (The answer might surprise you)Published April 27, 2021
Over the past five years I’ve seen a drastic increase in the number of conversations around the idea of resiliency. Leadership courses. College Campuses. Childhood Education. Everyone wants the people in their lives and leadership to be resilient. Our culture has become obsessed, and one thing you can usually count on when our culture gets obsessed about something: they usually screw it up.
Example: In 1995 Daniel Goleman came out with a groundbreaking book framing his work on “Emotional Intelligence.” The world went crazy. Everyone was trying to be emotionally intelligent. And somewhere along the lines being “emotionally intelligent” became synonymous with “being nice.”
“You really hurt that person’s feelings,” I overheard someone say recently. “That wasn’t very emotionally intelligent.”
I wish that person would have actually read Dr. Goleman’s book. Emotional intelligence has little to do with being nice or never hurting other people’s feelings. It has to do with being aware of how to manage yourself and others to do what needs to be done. Feelings are a part of that, but not in the way that most people have been trained to think. Put another way: over time, most people’s thinking around emotional intelligence has become less and less emotionally intelligent.
Over time, most people’s thinking around emotional intelligence has become less and less emotionally intelligent.
You see, just like how a copy of a copy loses its clarity, ideas get copied and copied in culture until the ideas lose their original helpfulness. This is happening to the idea of “resiliency.” I heard someone say recently, “Look at how resilient I am—I’ve overcome so much.” On the surface, this is fine. It’s great to see ourselves as capable and strong. But the resiliency that matters most isn’t about what’s behind you. It’s about what’s before you.
So, would you say that you are resilient?
Overwhelmingly, when people are asked this question they respond with some version of “yes.” But if everyone is already resilient then why do we talk about it so much? And you can probably think of people in your life or on your team who would answer “yes” to the question “are you resilient” who you would answer “no.” (And they might respond with a “no” about you as you answer “yes” about yourself).
So how are we supposed to handle the question, “Am I resilient?”
1. First off: resiliency isn’t a static state.
That means that you can’t answer the question “Am I resilient?” with a “Yes” or “No” because you can be resilient one moment and non-resilient the next. Or you can be resilient in one area of your life and non-resilient in another. This is because resiliency isn’t about who you are but is about how what you choose to believe moment to moment about yourself and the world. When something happens and you choose to believe “this is the worst thing ever” and “all hope is lost” or “I’ll never get over this”—in that moment you’re not likely to be very resilient. On the other hand, when something happens and you choose to think, “I can totally work through this,” or “I know this will be hard, but hard things are what help us get stronger” or “my attitude about this will determine how successful I’ll be navigating it”—then in that moment you’re likely more resilient.
So, the question isn’t “are you resilient” but “are you going to choose resiliency with today’s challenge?”
2. Second: resiliency is relative.
The demands of our lives are always changing. Take the idea of “strength” as an example. If you asked someone “are you strong?” a great response would be “strong enough to do what?” Strong enough to lift a box for you? Sure. Strong enough to lift a car? Doubtful. Strong enough to lift a house? No. I’m not that strong. It’s the same with resiliency. Are you resilient? Well, that depends on what we’re talking about. When your team sends you a contract bigger than you’re able to deliver you might think, “we can totally do this!” but if 10 contracts like that come in at once you might think, “We’re doomed.” Think of resiliency like strength. Every person has some level of strength. That’s not really the question. The question is do you have the level of strength needed to do what you want to do in your life?
3. Third: like strength, resiliency requires training.
Just like you don’t grow in strength by never lifting anything heavy, you don’t grow in resiliency by making your life easier. In fact, the easier you try to make your life the less resilient you will become. Growing in resiliency requires developing the habit of strategically making parts of your life harder on purpose so you can grow the mental muscles to overcome the obstacles you decide to put in your own path. This is what makes coaching such a powerful resource in growing in resiliency or creating resilient teams. A coach’s job is to meet with you regularly to strategically and powerfully guide you as you practice the disciple of resiliency and to help you get back on track when you drift from a resilient mindset.
Recently I got to interview Dan Leffelaar, the head of Novus Global Sport (our executive coaching division for professional athletes) along with one of his clients, Stanley Cup winning NHL player Luke Schenn. We were discussing how working with Dan helped Luke go from “I’m not sure I want to play this season” to becoming a key player in the Tampa Bay Lightening winning last year’s Stanley Cup. “When it comes to the best of the best, there aren’t huge differences in size and ability,” Luke said. “The biggest difference is mental. If your mental game is off during a game, no amount of size or ability will make up for that, and every second counts.” In other words, hockey players on the ice can be resilient in one moment and not in the next, and their ability to manage that process makes all the difference. He continued, “Working with Dan regularly helped me keep my mindset sharp so if I got in a funk, it only lasted for a moment rather than for a month.”
The truth is we all need people in our lives to help us upgrade our questions about resiliency so we can get better answers that help us build our resiliency to face the challenges of tomorrow.
As Luke said, “In hockey, every second counts.” The same is true for us. And if we can remember that we’ll get smarter around resiliency, the trait the world desperately needs but struggles to develop.
Never miss an inspiring leadership insight or the latest leadership news!
About the Author
Jason Jaggard is an internationally sought-after coach, speaker and author. He is the CEO of Novus Global, an elite executive coaching firm helping leaders and companies take new ground in personal mastery, large scale organizational change, and high performance. He is the creator of Spark Groups, an award-winning 4-week online experience that has facilitated more than 100,000 risks worldwide to increase personal and organizational health. He has a Masters in Entrepreneurial Leadership from the Mosaic Leadership Centre and a Master of Theology from Golden Gate Seminary. He is the author of Spark: Transform Your World One Small Risk at a Time.