Resilience: What Makes or Breaks Us and Our Organisations

Resilience is typically defined as a human’s capacity to shake off or bounce back from difficult life situations. It is the ability to cope, and building resilience can help us better adapt when we are faced with change.

Why is resilience important?

We are living in times of great uncertainty. Investment markets are volatile, wars and unrest diminish access to resources, political leadership is questionable, pandemics such as Covid-19 can result in extensive lockdowns, and disruptive technologies threaten existing expertise. In the face of all this complexity and uncertainty, a meltdown is not the answer, but rather an ability to ride the waves and get back up and try again.

We often hear that ‘things are not as they used to be.’ The fact is, they never were. It is a mistaken belief that things have ever remained constant. In reality things change every day and wishing them to stay the same stems from our inherent need to make sense of what is happening around us.

The key is to get rid of the notion that our reality is consistent and to equip ourselves with the necessary tools to withstand constant change and its resultant unpredictability.

This is where resilience comes in. If you are resilient, it means you have the right systems and characteristics in place to withstand disasters and adapt to what emerges.

How do you develop resilience?

For an organisation to be resilient, it needs to focus on both the overall system and the individuals employed. The concepts are similar and below is a table that outlines the principles which should be realised to be resilient.

Well-defined values and principles Well-defined culture (values, principles and behaviours)
Ongoing curiosity about the world and innovation Ongoing scanning of the environment
Accepting change is inevitable and not resisting it Accepting that change is inevitable
A deep level of self-awareness Ongoing reflection and check-ins to explore the internal environment
Self-compassion and care Organisation-wide compassion and empathy
An enriching environment at work and at home A thriving environment conducive to productivity, learning and growth
An approach to ongoing learning and growth A focus on continuous learning and growth
Open to different perspectives and world views Adaptability and agility
Strong relationships at work and socially Strong relationships and teams
Maintaining holistic equilibrium (in all aspects of life) Maintaining holistic equilibrium

Principles of resilience

Paying attention to the principles of resilience should be continuous. It requires a leadership team that maintains the momentum of building structural resilience in the organisation and ensuring employees are healthy and happy.

A culture of fear, anxiety and last-minute responsiveness is counterproductive and reduces resilience. This is because everyone is caught up in ongoing crises. The continued stress and disharmony this creates will lead to degradation and decreased sustainability. The symptoms of this include high staff turnover, incitive gossip, blame shifting, increased working hours, complaints, and sick leave, and an eventual decline in profits.

Simon Sinek scoffs at the idea that the leadership skills required for effective organisations are called soft skills. ‘They are human skills, and they’re hard.’ To develop and sustain the characteristics for resilience, the leaders themselves need to work on their own resilience structure. Their principles, self-awareness, ability to adapt, energy, coaching skill, relationship intelligence and curiosity – their human skills – will filter into their teams and create the right environment for resilience to emerge.