The unknown, uncertainty and changes – three of the words that are most characteristic of the events of recent times and for processes taking place in the workplace. Never before have changes been so intensive, concentrated into such a short period and affecting nearly all employees, as they are the moment. Resilience or internal strength, motivation, tolerance of uncertainty, and being able to cope with stress and able to assume responsibility is being asked today of every employee. For many this is a completely new experience.
The role and the position of the manager has always been associated with the ability to act in complex situations, to lead a team in times of change, accept challenges and to make the right decisions, to discern and integrate the company's vision. I think that any manager would agree that responsibility for the company and the team is particularly challenging and difficult during the pandemic. Such challenges and difficulties are affecting every employee at the moment and for many of us, this demands a completely new and great internal strength and tenacity.
How then do we acquire, maintain and renew this internal strength and tenacity in situations when the surrounding circumstances can be complex, dynamic and demanding?
Resilience or the importance of internal strength and tenacity
There has been a lot said, researched and analysed about the efficiency, productivity and motivation of employees, but in recent times, particularly, one ability is being increasingly researched and emphasized – resilience or our ability to recover quickly from any complications or difficulties, and to become stronger, something which determines our success, achievements and power. Resilience could also be interpreted as elasticity, internal strength determination and tenacity. It is this ability, in particular, which is so valuable when changes and the unknown are becoming a permanent feature.
The level of resilience within us determines what sort of managers and employees we are in difficult conditions, how we react and operate in complex times, and what we are like as colleagues, or as a team. This ability is irreplaceable in managers. However, now it is becoming increasingly important to be not only resilient and internally strong, but to also develop resilient, internally strong teams and businesses. What is resilience then, and how does this ability form and develop? It is important to add here, that resilience or internal tenacity and strength are not a talent given to some, but not others – it really is a skill that anyone can develop within themselves or help others to develop as well.
The elements which create resilience or strength and tenacity
Resilience or internal tenacity, the strength (of the will) evolves and can be developed from six basic elements – confidence, control, elasticity, thinking, perspective, mastery and sustainability of internal strength.
Confidence in oneself
Confidence is made up of many elements, but I wish to emphasize two – our strong sides, the talents and skills that we have developed, and also the focus of control. Firstly, it is important to understand our strong sides, to realize what our talent and strength or what we are best at, actually is. Initially, this seems to be a simple question, but in practice it is quite complex, as to name and recognize what we do best is not that simple or something that is done every day. Here the role of the manager is to help and facilitate the recognition and development of their team's strongest sides.
Focus of control
The phenomenon of our thinking and advancement. One must ask oneself and self-analyse, how much time, thinking, energy and activity we focus on things that are under our influence or in our zone of control, and how much of all this this we dedicate to things, events and people that are outside of our zone of influence.
It is like a rule – to balance one's activities, thinking, use of time and focus only on the activities, situations and things to do, that are within our influence and control. The more time that we devote to situations, things and circumstances which are outside of our zone of influence, like, for example, the weather, other people's lives, and comments on social media, the weaker we feel. Focusing on things, obligations and opportunities that we can control and influence, develops our confidence and internal strength.
We need to know how to clearly divide off and group activities, jobs, attention and focus on two basic groups: the first – things, situations, events and actions that we can influence or control; the second – what is completely outside our control and influence. The more time, focus, skills and activities that we use on the first group, the more determined, efficient and also more confident we are. A manager’s support in managing the planning of priorities and work, effective meetings and team communication is important in the development of employees’ focus of control.
Elasticity or mental dexterity
This is the ability to adapt to something new or different, as well as to accept the new or different. This skill can be developed in combination with one's confidence, which gives us internal stability. This allows us to open up to the diverse, the unknown and the different. Undeniably – it is specifically elasticity and openness to changes, which is challenging and not easy for many. This is understandable, as such a dynamic surrounding environment and circumstances, demanding of new knowledge and skills are specifically the characteristics of the last ten years. With changes in life, professional stages or situations, the demand for transparency and clarity changes and also increases. However, the environment in which we live and work demands constant adaptation, the acceptance and learning of the new.
There are two skills or even qualities for how we can develop elasticity or mental dexterity – the first, to develop courage. The courage to try, dare and believe in oneself and the surrounding changes. All of us develop courage, by strengthening the first element, or confidence in ourselves. The more we believe in ourselves, our capability, and trust ourselves, the more believe in what is taking place around us – the new, the different and the changes. And the second – to train ourselves to feel a little uncomfortable or to make the uncomfortable comfortable. This means adapting ourselves to not being afraid, that in basically everything and all situations we don't know or are not confident the whole 100%. The best way to do this is to learn something new – even just a little, but regularly. This widens our range of vision and gets us used to feeling a little uncomfortable, just like in our first year when we don't know much. But we are ready and open to the new, because we learn to be open to new information, situations and people. The development of courage and the acquisition of new things, knowledge and information is a good foundation for the development of the elements of elasticity or mental dexterity.
Recognizing thinking traps
Our thinking tends to have various models or cognitive biases. This could be various stereotypes or views adopted from our past experience. We all have these, but for us to be able to develop critical thinking, effective analysis of events and situations, and to make the best decisions, it is important to identify and recognize our thinking biases. One of the most widespread thinking traps or bias models is the 3P - personalization, permanence and pervasiveness. This means that we often have the tendency to take in situations, events or other people’s activities personally. For example, a lack of success in one area is attributed as a personal lack of success, and in this way, a poor sense of well-being develops in all areas and gets generalized. Having ended up in complex situations and difficulties, we start to think that we will never succeed, that we will always fail and similar. That's why everyone should leave some time for reflection about what their models are like, whether they have a generalized, personal or stereotypical form of thinking. When as managers, we recognize and transform this unnecessary way of thinking or making judgements, we can also analyse and recognize this in the team or other work situations and facilitate more effective thinking, analysis and problem solving.
This is the ability to see and analyse situations from different perspectives. There is a tendency, particularly in unexpected or complex situations, to act according to our embedded automatic reactions, and this is natural. However, the ability to stop and look at a specific situation or event from a different perspective and then respond to it, develops internal determination and confidence. This allows for the activation of the thinking centre and to respond appropriately to complex and stressful situations with conscious action. Some call this development of perspective stopping before responding, as counting to three, for others it is to breathe in and out three times before responding. The methods vary, each has their own, but the most important thing is to be able to see situations and events consciously. In teams, it is the manager specifically who can help to see different perspectives.
Mastery – professional ability and development
In this element, the important thing is not only what we know or can do, what our skills are as a professional in a specific area, but also our vision and goals. The more clearly and convincingly we know why, and where, we are going in our professional development, the more powerfully we have developed this element within us. The support of the manager to the team is important here, in both the passing on and integration of the company's common goals with one’s people, as well as in the development and support of individual goals. The more convincingly we know why we are doing a specific job in a company, the stronger and more resilient we are in difficult and complex times. Engagement and meaning in a particular job and company is one of the most powerful elements of resilience, or tenacity and strength, in complex crises and changing times.
Tenacity and internal strength in the long term or a secure foundation
It is a system that shapes us and ensures the development of our resilience. A secure foundation – this term has developed from attachment theory. In this case, it is a system which gives us strength at times when we are exhausted and tired, a system which allows us to regain energy and strength, and also a system which gives us the courage to risk, to dare and try and to believe in oneself.
A secure foundation can develop from many elements: they can be the people around us, family, place, vision, goals – anything that is the source of our support strength and belief. The more powerfully developed our secure foundation is, the stronger we are in difficult or complex times. If a manager has this strong sixth resilience element, they often become this secure foundation or source of support for their team, providing the team with confidence in its own abilities.
These six elements, in total, develop resilience or the skill of internal strength or tenacity. Everyone has these. The question is – which of these should be developed more to develop our tenacity or internal strength and allow us to not just get through complex times of change, but to grow with them and to become more powerful, more capable and more effective? A manager, in developing their resilience or tenacity, has the opportunity to see and develop their team's tenacity. It is said that the type of environment where teams that are tenacious and effective in times of change, develop, is an environment where one is allowed to make mistakes, where mistakes are a part of progress, learning and success, where there is empathy and vision, and the acceptance of diversity, which extends further than just business results.
Many companies and various business sectors model and analyse what the new rules and regulations will be in the new normal after the conditions created by the pandemic. There are still many questions, but what has already crystallized now is that for companies to operate effectively and successfully, two skills will be and are required: tolerance of uncertainty and changes and resilience or internal tenacity and elasticity.
Therefore, the question which we can give to ourselves and our team is appropriate – will we be stronger after this crisis or changes, and how?
Linda Saulīte - internationally certified trainer and coach in business, management and development