Can Resilience be Taught?

Resilience, Business Transformation, Leading Change, Leadership

In these time of relentless technological and business change, resilience is starting to receive renewed attention/ is climbing higher on the leadership agenda. Resilience encompasses the ability to recover quickly from setbacks, to respond positively to change, to see the opportunities in work, in life, not just the challenges. Or as Alibaba’s Jack Ma put at Davos 2018 (World Economic Forum): “It is not about what you achieve. It is about what you do when things get tough.”

We can all see around us that people deal very differently with adversity and unexpected setbacks. In changing organizations you can see the difference between resilient and less resilient teams. The resilient ones are faster in finding their way forward. Lack of resilience quicker leads to uncertainty and doubt, to a tendency to revisit decisions already taken and to surrender to the status quo.

When resilient teams are having a rough day, they sometimes quote the super-resilient. Just two random examples:

“It’s a slip and not a fall”

This is what Abraham Lincoln said after countless hours of self-study, a law practice that barely earned him a living, the loss of his first child, two depressions, and his second failed attempt to enter politics and make it to the US Senate. Later, when he is elected president (almost to his own surprise), he has to lead his country through a brutal civil war. He suffers. He loses weight. But he never gives up. (read more here).

“Courage all the time”

American princess Allene Tew, beautifully portayed by Dutch writer Annejet van der Zijl (De Amerikaanse Prinses, 2015), after the sudden loss of GE’s Anson Wood Burchard, her third husband. Allene had already lost her first husband and her three children. She dyes her hair, takes a boat across the Atlantic, starts a second life in Europe, and never looks back.

And there are many more examples.

Have we, in our spoiled society, possibly become too soft?

Hanneke’s yoga teacher thinks we have, and makes his students train the warrior pose. He claims the pose will, over time, re-wire the nervous system. It is an interesting thought: training your resilience with specific physical exercises dating from a time when you defended your own family with your own power and hands.

Can resilience be taught?

Yes, says Psychology Professor Martin Seligman: there is substantial evidence from well controlled studies that skills which increase resilience, including positive emotion, engagement and meaning, can in fact be taught. You can read more here: Harvard Business Review – Building Resilience

Ancient Chinese sages sought to master the art of resilience by accepting, rather than fearing, change as the natural way of the world. 3000 years before the advent of modern quantum physics, they believed that energy or Qi 气 is the invisible master template behind all visible forms and functions of the human system and the world we live in. They claimed that everyone can learn, through regular Qi Gong (气功 or “energy work”) practice, to strengthen and refine his/her energetic reservoir and find a better balance when dealt a heavy blow, professional or personal.

Should we pay more attention to resilience, of ourselves and of our teams?

  • How resilient am I?
  • How resilient are we as a team?
  • Did we become too soft?
  • Do we talk about it?
  • How can we become stronger in dealing with change, and with unexpected setbacks?
  • How can we spend more time developing resilience?

Your experience? Your thoughts?

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Photo: Shutterstock.com


Aad Boot is a global business advisor, change leader/program manager, executive team facilitator, leadership coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services.

Hanneke Siebelink is research partner and writer at HRS Business Transformation Services, and author of several books and the Expert Series.

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2 Comments on “Can Resilience be Taught?

  1. Pingback: Can Resilience be Taught? — LeadershipWatch | Executive Training Dubai

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