Becoming Resilient: Leadership, Uncertainty, and Learning to Thrive in Times of Change

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Two different executives lose their jobs. One sends out thousands of resumes, receives little response, and is angry and bitter. The other returns to school, changes careers and creates a new professional life. Why is one executive stuck in an unhealthy pattern, while the other is able to adapt?

According to Mary Lynn Pulley, a Center for Creative Leadership adjunct faculty member and author of Losing Your Job – Reclaiming Your Soul: Stories of Resilience, Renewal, and Hope, the difference has to do with resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity. It is what allows us to recover from change or hardship. Pulley says resilient people demonstrate flexibility, durability, an attitude of optimism and a mindset that is open to learning. A lack of resilience is signaled by burnout, fatigue, malaise, depression, defensiveness and cynicism.

Resiliency can be developed by modifying both our thoughts and actions, Pulley explains. By modifying our thoughts, we broaden our outlook and become less narrowly focused – and better able to adapt to change.

Try to become more resilient by developing in the following areas:

First, become a continuous learner. Learn new skills, gain new understanding and apply them during times of change. Many managers resist learning new approaches and hold onto old behaviors and skills even when it’s obvious that they don’t work anymore.

Next, find your sense of purpose. Develop a “personal why” that gives your work meaning or helps you put it into a larger context. Take charge of your own development, both on and off the job. To achieve some degree of resilience, separate who you are from what you do.

Another way to become more resilient is to cultivate relationships. Develop and nurture a broad network of personal and professional relationships. Personal relationships also create a strong base of support – a critical element in achieving goals, dealing with hardships and developing perspective.

Question (and even change) how you define yourself or your career. Reframe how you see your skills, talents and interests. By casting your skills in a new light, you can see how they might shift into new patterns of work and behavior.

Lastly, become more resilient by learning to re-think money. What does money mean to you? While money is important for meeting basic needs, resiliency is not tied to net worth. However, living beyond your means, or even to the very limit, undermines your flexibility in the face of change.

So practice resiliency – both you and the people you work with are sure to be happier!


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