I know it is a cliché, but those who succeed are resilient. Resilience makes the difference. Why is it that two people go through the same experience or trauma, and some individuals rise above the experience, and some are defeated? The answer is simple: Resilience. Talented individuals with great promise do fall victim to setbacks, failure, and disappointments if they do not develop sufficient resilience to withstand the adverse reality of the work environment. The Servant Leader assists their teams to develop the resilience needed to thrive in a highly competitive, complex, ambiguous, and constantly changing marketplace.
We have a crisis when it comes to resilience. The research and facts show us that more people are struggling to cope with the demands of work and life. Scholars give us two reasons for this:
Firstly, we have wrapped our children in cotton wool. We, as parents, educators, and society, have tried to shield our children from the reality of life. We have stepped in and mitigated the consequences of our children, and in some cases, we have not allowed them to suffer the consequences of their choices. Let me give you an example: Our daughter loves to dance, she does ballet, acrobatic dance and freestyle dance. It is important to dance, but some kids cannot dance. Our daughter is not great, and she is not terrible. Some of the kids in her class are amazing, and some are just awful.
Every week in class, the teacher picks a dancer of the week. It is basically a rotation process of giving each little girl the opportunity to be the dancer of the week. Then you get a trophy that you need to return after a week, and your picture gets taken. Initially, the girls in her class were excited to receive the trophy, but as the year went on, the kids did not care about the trophy, and one of the kids actually lost it in the process of being the dancer of the week. One week I challenged my daughter to practice her dancing to become the dancer of the week, but she answered me: “Dad, that is not how it works. We take turns to be dancer of the week.”
Then I realised that in the process of not hurting little girls’ feelings and honestly telling them that they are average or terrible at dancing, the teacher succeeded in numbing my daughter’s drive to practice her routines. We have become so sensitive towards the feelings and self-image of children, that we refuse to give them an accurate assessment of who they are. These kids grow up, thinking I just need to attend and take part, and eventually, I will get my turn to be rewarded. This is not the reality of life.
Therefore, our kids develop no resilience because pitching up is enough. There is no struggle to succeed and improve. As a boy, when I played rugby, the joy of playing was enough. There were better players than me, and they got into the team. One year I sat the entire year on the reserves bench and never got to start a game. I got onto the field twice because of injury to other players. That was great. That made me practice with more intensity so that I could compete and get into the team. No trophies for just being there. No trophies for just attending to practice.
How many times have parents told me that they do not want their children to suffer as much as they did? Now keep in mind that as a company, we work with highly intelligent, successful people. If you listen to them, you realise that their struggle and suffering is precisely what brought them the success in life that they are enjoying. Their stories are inspiring, most people do not have an easy ride in life, yet we try and mitigate the struggles that our children need to experience in order to develop resilience.
Secondly, life has become more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA). A big part of creating this VUCA world has been the Internet. Our world has become more connected, smaller, and much more digital. This new reality has brought about an explosion of social media, which has severally impacted the younger generations who grew up with apps that connect people socially. There is an information overload, and big data is the new buzz.
This connected world has led to some real social issues for the younger generations, which has severally impacted their resilience. Today 71% of teenagers engage daily on social media according to the Pew Research Organisation. These children pay a severe PRICE (Acronym of Tim Elmore in his book Marching of the Map):
P – Personal Platform: This has fostered a narcissistic culture of obsessive selfies
R – Reactionary Stimulus: This has led to an unhealthy preoccupation with the opinions of others
I – Instant Update: This has fostered short attention spans and high levels of impatience
C – Constant Information: This has caused angst and depression
E – External Stimuli: This has caused addictive behaviour in most teenagers engaging in social media
The price that we are paying for our new reality is tough. Keep in mind that as with money, alcohol, sex, and all other good created things, the Internet is not bad in its essence, but we must understand the impact it has on the new generations coming into the workplace. Generation Y, Millennials, and Generation Z have all grown up in this VUCA world. The world is changing must quicker, and adaption needs to be faster. These generations in all social studies that we have investigated score much lower in terms of resilience and grit. There could be two reasons for this, firstly, grit develops over time, and secondly, this new world does not allow younger generations to struggle enough, which leads to their resilience not developing.
It seems like our parenting and education of younger generations, combined with the impact of social media has developed the perfect storm for humanity, where social sciences believe that resilience is the fastest eroding human characteristic.
WHAT CAN LEADERS DO?
The Servant Leader is aware of this struggle of younger generations and has a deep understanding of the impact. This generation younger than 30 in our companies is mostly anxious, addicted, and amoral. Listen to how Tim Elmore explains this:
“They’re savvy and social, and they represent our hope for tomorrow. But their “race of life” is full of hurdles that society has created. If I were to summarize the hurdles, it would be with these three “A” words:
- Anxiety— a world full of messaging and expectations requires margins.
- Addiction— a world full of stimulants and options requires self-regulation.
- Amoralism— a world full of pluralism and tolerance requires convictions.”
Elmore, Dr. Tim; McPeak, Andrew. Marching Off the Map: Inspire Students to Navigate a Brand New World (Kindle Locations 1042-1049). Poet Gardener Publishing. Kindle Edition.
What does the Servant Leader intentionally do to assist this generation? They will invite this new generation into their companies and do some map restoration through legitimate suffering.
Map restoration is a psychological term that explains a process through which an individual’s subjective idea of reality is brought in line with the objective reality of our world. A reality check takes place through a guided process, which sometimes can be quite revealing for individuals. Here are some practical ways to restore the maps of individuals struggling with resilience:
1. BE A NON-ANXIOUS PRESENCE
Servant Leaders know that when they enter a room, the anxiety levels need to go down. If a leader enters the room and the anxiety levels go up, people start thinking of self-protection, that in turn leads to the hiding of mistakes and not revealing the truth. To be a leader that expels anxiety rather than create anxiety, your behaviour needs to be consistent, transparent, and honest. This will build safety, where trust can thrive, and where crucial and difficult conversations can take place.
The question the Servant Leader asks is: “Do I raise the levels of anxiety when I enter the room?”
2. PROJECTS AND WORK ASSIGNMENTS
If you have built trust with your teams, the next step in helping prepare your followers for reality is by giving them projects and work assignments that take them out of their comfort zone. The projects and assignments need to be demanding, challenging, and should assist your teams in exercising their resilience muscles. Your followers should experience pressure and stress while learning how to cope with difficult clients and colleagues. It is a sink and swim scenario: tough deadlines, massive amounts of work, and quick decision making.
One of our clients develops their team resilience by assigning a difficult client to new team members to see how they cope with the demands of the client. Once the team member struggles, some coaching conversations will take place, but no problems are solved for them. After the assignment of a difficult client, there will be a meeting with the leader/manager to discuss what was learned, which mistakes were made, and how this can be rectified.
3. TRAIN IN RESILIENCE
Employers need to develop the mental strength of their employees. Mental strength is not a given. It is something that can be fostered through healthy mental habits. The core of Resilience training is:
- Accepting reality – the truth
- Personal Leadership – taking ownership, discipline
- Learning from Failure – not repeating mistakes
- Lifelong Learning
- Overcoming Change Fatigue
- Facing your fears
- Creating a simple life
- Healthy Boundaries
4. GET THE SERVING
As a business, we have had the privilege to work with many professionals in mental health and psychology. What was remarkable is that all of them are convinced that to help people grow their resilience, we need to get them to look away from their own needs. In a culture of narcissism, many people get caught in the web of self-obsession. Servant Leaders understand that they need to create opportunities for their people to look away from their own needs.
Many of our clients have started developing opportunities for their employees to serve. Organisations that assist the vulnerable in society are plentiful, and they all need volunteers to help. Our world produces thousands of new self-help books every year, and yet our ability to help ourselves and stay resilient is in decline. Maybe we need books on how to help others because the best way to help ourselves is to help others. Resilience will develop as I help others.
A resilient workforce is a major competitive advantage, but resilience is in decline. Servant Leaders intentionally build resilience in their followers by allowing them to go through the tough times so that they can learn to become tenacious and persevere over the long haul. Servant Leaders do this in a practical way, by restoring maps to help people face reality and acquire the skills needed to live resilient lives.
Author and Contributor: Hermann Du Plessis – Founder & Director @ TTLI (LinkedIn Bio https://www.linkedin.com/in/hermann-du-plessis-01b17618/)