Many leaders cite resilience – the ability to bounce back after adverse experiences – as a critical skill they look for when assembling a team. In fact, a media executive I recently spoke to said it’s the number one thing he looks for when hiring. “In my industry, tough things happen. I don’t have time to worry how my team will handle challenges. I need to know that they are resilient and can move forward.”
The professional landscape is rapidly changing. Unlike Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y professionals, students graduating from college today can expect to hold many different jobs in various industries over the course of their career. Losing jobs will be the new norm. According to McKinsey Global Institute’s research on the future of work, approximately 375 million workers will need to change occupations by 2030 due to automation. Young professionals will need to be resilient and skilled at reinventing themselves to adapt to this new professional reality.
Technology is at the heart of this new world. According to Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, authors of The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, today’s technology has an average shelf life of five years. That means five years for people to learn a technology, incorporate it into daily routines, absorb ensuing disruptions, and prepare for the next wave. Only the resilient will be able to metabolize this rapid pace of change.
So how do we stay strong, and help those we manage stay afloat in this sea of flux?
Professor Robert Sinclair and Dr. Janelle Cheung reviewed years of literature on personal characteristics that promote resilience. They developed the acronym POWER to encapsulate the elements most social psychologists deem important. POWER stands for purpose, optimism, will power, emotional stability and resourcefulness. Let’s look at how these elements relate to thriving in the workforce.
Purpose – When people have a strong sense of purpose, they are anchored in something bigger than both themselves and the immediate moment. Whether someone is motivated by a personal passion, a connection to an organization’s mission, or a desire to provide for a family, they are better able to withstand adversity. To cultivate purpose requires reflection, an awareness of core values, and a commitment to growth.
Optimism – Martin Seligman, University of Pennsylvania professor and father of Positive Psychology, defines optimism as the belief that with effort one can influence the outcome. Optimism isn’t a ‘rose- colored glasses’ attitude, but a belief that one can access personal power in adverse situations. His research with organizations such as MetLife Insurance and the military academy at West Point shows that people who tend to be optimistic perform better in highly challenging environments.
Will power – My favorite coaching question to ask clients is “What are you willing to do?” It’s rumored that when Sofia Coppola wanted to make her film, Lost in Translation, she asked her famed father how to go about it. He responded, “You will it to happen.” What does it take to ‘will’ something to happen? Action, resourcefulness and perseverance. While want reflects desires, will demands commitment. Those who are willing are more resilient.
Emotional Stability – In times of adversity, emotions run high. Most of us have received damaging emails sent in the heat of the moment, heard hostile confrontations in the hallways, and witnessed toddler like behavior at work when tension permeates the air. Understanding emotional triggers and how to manage them is critical to keep stressful moments from destroying collegiality and teamwork. While resilience is about being able to bounce back after adversity, volatile emotions have the power to snap us during adversity.
Resourcefulness – Those who are able to look beyond the norm and discover innovative ways to solve problems demonstrate higher levels of resilience. Adam Grant, author of Originals: How Non-conformists Move the World, shares a study that found customer service representatives and call center employees who used Chrome and Firefox as their browsers both performed better on the job and had a longer tenure of employment. The research revealed that it wasn’t the browser, but the fact that these people didn’t accept the default on their computers – Safari or Internet Explorer. Instead, they took initiative to download something they believed to perform better. This trait of resourcefulness translated into higher workplace performance. With the coming wave of automation, perhaps nothing will be as important for resilience as resourcefulness.
In order not to simply survive but thrive in today’s economy, resilience is mandatory for the agility needed to take advantage of opportunities. So, how are you helping your employees and teams cultivate POWER?
In my next blog, you’ll read about personality attributes that diminish resilience and strategies to safe guard against them.