How To Stop Coping and Start Building Resilience At Work

Start Building ResilienceDefining Resilience

Chances are when discussing the topic of resilience you have heard various definitions that paint a picture of “bouncing back” from stress, crisis, setbacks, etc.

To test this concept, I tried bouncing a ball and realized something significant: After it hit the ground it rarely came back higher than where it had started. The concept of “bouncing back” was not the answer. Resilience isn’t about bouncing back. That’s not enough. Once you bounce a ball, it eventually peters out and stops moving.

Harvard Business Review Editor, Diane Coutu tells us that, ‘anything to do with “bouncing back” greatly minimizes the struggle and the growth required to build genuine resilience, as well as the adaptations we must make to emerge stronger from a stressful situation.’ Resilience isn’t about bouncing back. Resilience is about moving forward.

A Better Definition

After years of studying and teaching the concept of both individual and organizational resilience at LeaderShift Insights, we have formed a more complete definition of resilience. We define resilience as the power to be energized and elevated by disruption. It is the internal fortitude to emerge stronger and even more effective from tough situations.

Building resilience involves intentional preparation. It’s building a foundation on which we can rely, before situations get tough, to increase our ability to come back better equipped than we were before. This is not a return to our former state of mind. It is a transformation of our former self into a stronger self so that the next time disruption hits, we will be better prepared. It works the same way for your team or company.

For organizations in an environment of rapid, disruptive change, there is often no “back” to bounce to after disruption, because by the time they right themselves things have changed. 

More than ever before, there is a huge need for individuals and organizations to build resilience. We believe that resilience is the most critical characteristic for effective leadership, yet rather than preparing for disruptions, most leaders and organizations are simply reacting or coping.

Coping Doesn’t Build Resilience

Coping is the ability to survive and get past a difficult situation in the moment. And in the moment when we need to cope, it is far too late to build resilience. Resilience is a different beast altogether. If we truly build resilience, the need to cope becomes a whole lot less necessary. 

Resilience is built over time. To be energized and elevated by disruption, this preparation must happen before the disruption hits. The problem with coping is that it is about merely surviving or “getting through.” It has little to do with being energized or elevated and even less to do with finding meaning in a situation. Coping, although sometimes necessary, is an exhausting way to live.  

Resilience Removes The Need To Cope

Resilience is not a means to an end, it is another end. And it is way beyond coping. Resilience acknowledges that things are hard and that there will be challenges that will knock us down and prompt us to prepare, not just to fall, but to get back up and rise, stronger – better for it.

If we are leading organizations and teams that must adapt quickly to change, we need resilience for two reasons. The first, obviously, is because we will get knocked down. It’s the nature of “adaptive” work. The second reason is that sooner or later, we will be responsible for leading this kind of work. We will, at some point, need to mobilize people to solve complex challenges that require people to adapt. These challenges (adaptive challenges) will require us to raise tough questions that others may not want to answer. We will need to mobilize people to act and think in ways that they may never have before and may not want to. 

This kind of leadership is not easy. Stepping into that role means not that we might get banged up, but that we will get banged up. Adaptive leadership is not always safe, but it is necessary. If we are going to be resilient, we will need to be personally responsible to run into the fight, not to merely cope with it. And this requires a tremendous amount of preparation.

If your leaders need to stop reacting to complex challenges and start being energized and elevated by disruption, call us! It’s what we do.

*This is an excerpt from Resilience: It’s Not About Bouncing Back, a new book by Jennifer Eggers and Cynthia Barlow.

1 Comment

  1. Julian Kaufmann on August 20, 2019 at 8:27 am

    Hi Jennifer — fantastic post. I deeply admire the way you combine insightful brilliance with an engaging, evocative writing style.

    Could not agree more with the distinctions you draw between coping and resilience. Deeply proud of our association. How can a purchase a copy autographed by the author?