It’s becoming a cliché to say we live in unprecedented times and, at the moment, it feels like we are driving in thick fog with no idea as to what comes next. Stating the obvious, the most immediate impact of the COVID-19 outbreak has been homeworking becoming the new norm. Only when normality returns will we see whether this remains the case, or whether there will be a gradual drift back to office-based work.
The key phrase in the last sentence is ‘when normality returns’, and the hard part for all of us both as individuals and as leaders of teams is that nobody knows how long the crisis is going to last. If one looks at the latest from places like China, with no new domestic outbreaks reported, one could speculate that normality could return within a couple of months. However, based on the latest news from the UK, it could be at least a year. Dealing with this uncertainty is going to test our resilience as individuals, as managers and as a society.
So, what is resilience and how do you develop it?
The first thing to say is it is not GRIT. Psychologists define GRIT as perseverance and passion for long-term goals, whereas resilience is being mentally or emotionally able to cope with a crisis. Like many traits it can be developed, and the research shows there are a number of elements to this, including:
Strong relationships: we are not islands and connecting with trustworthy, empathetic and understanding people can help remind you that you’re not alone in the midst of difficulties. It has also been shown that helping others has a positive impact on one’s sense of purpose and self-worth.
Taking care of your health and well-being: a healthy lifestyle, which includes factors like good nutrition and hydration, regular exercise, mindfulness and high-quality sleep can help strengthen your body to adapt to stress. They will also reduce the impact of emotions such as anxiety or depression.
Keep things in perspective: how you frame an issue can play a significant part in how you feel, and how resilient you are when faced with obstacles. In times like these, history is a great tool in helping you realise that others have had it worse. Thus, you may not be able to change a highly stressful event, but you can change how you interpret and respond to it by being more balanced and realistic.
Accept change: the world today is described as VUCA and people need to accept that change is a part of life. This does mean some goals or ideals may no longer be attainable, but not all, and thus it is wise to focus on those you can still achieve.
Maintain a positive outlook: it can be hard to remain optimistic at times, especially in today’s hyper-connected, always-on world. However, being optimistic helps you to expect that good things will happen, and the situation will improve. It took nearly 20 years from the outbreak of the 1918 flu pandemic for a vaccine to be developed, whereas for COVID-19 it is likely to be 12-18 months.
Learn from your past: we have all experienced setbacks, disappointments and possibly life-changing events. Looking back at what these were and reflecting on how you managed to deal with them can help you to respond effectively to new difficulties.
Remember when you meet a resilient person it doesn’t mean they have not been impacted by a negative event or problem. Rather, they’ve found a pretty good way of dealing with it quickly. As leaders having to manage in these unparalleled times, it falls upon us to help our people with the skills and mindset to build their resilience.