BY Nicky Denegri

DATE: 14 NOV 2014


Resilience.  Now there’s a word – a buzzword even - for these hyper-competitive, fast-paced times.

We’re always hearing how top executives have it, both physically and mentally.  Take Thomas Cook CEO Harriet Green and her top team, all of whom are super-fit (regularly running marathons or even ultra-marathons), and who credit their physical and mental resilience to having played a part in turning the ailing business around.   They know that they’re not immune to the challenges of a business life in the fast lane and they don’t pretend that they are; they have learned to look after themselves first, delegate second and acknowledge that – despite the myriad perks – it really is tough at the top, and survival depends on looking after their physical and mental wellbeing, and that of their staff, third.

So resilience is important – but what is it, and how do we get it? Angela Lee Duckworth’s short but interesting TED talk on “grit” is worth a watch; she defines grit as a “perseverance towards and passion for one’s goals”, and explains that talent alone is not a predictor of success.  My brother-in-law, a professional musician, displayed a natural ability for all things musical as a child, but has got where he is today thanks to, on average, eight hours’ practice, every day.  I’m sure there were times he hated practising his scales, or playing a particularly tricky piece over and over, but he did.  Did he study with people just as good as – or better than – him?  Sure.  But he also understood the importance of staying the course even when he didn’t feel like it – just keeping on, keeping on in other words. 

What Angela Lee Duckworth and her team are still looking at is why some people have that innate grit and others don’t – but there are still things that we can do to develop it, however much or little it occurs naturally in each of us.

I spent 90 minutes recently with one of our favourite clients talking about resilience (context – a lot of change within their business, much of it public, and they have to provide support to people who are possibly struggling with that change and look after themselves at the same time) and I shared with them eight things that people who survive life or death situations typically do, and why those things in particular are critical to survival. 

For example, they recognise – fast - when a situation is genuinely dangerous and move through the range of emotions from shock, denial, anger, bargaining and acceptance to action much more quickly than the average person.  I found that fascinating – it isn’t that their emotional state is somehow “different”, “better” or “superior” – just that they realise that they need to unstick themselves from each of these natural stages, do something and then actually do it.

Thankfully we don’t often, if ever, find ourselves in life or death situations, but we talked about how we can apply those life or death lessons to the everyday at work in order to develop resilience.  There are a range of things – whether it’s talking to someone you trust, taking time out to attend to a hobby, or as per the Thomas Cook team, keeping yourself physically fit – that it’s easy to poo-poo, but all too often we don’t realise that people around us have been struggling with their resilience and wellbeing until the wheels start to fall off.

What pushes your buttons in terms of dragging down your resilience?  What do you do to cope that is genuinely helpful and then (it’s entirely normal) what do you indulge in that really isn’t helpful apart from in the moment, leaving you full of self-loathing and regret?  I’ve just started a six-week challenge at my local Pilates studio; they have “reformer” machines which feel as medieval as they sound, but I’m keen to get my base fitness level up before Christmas and help myself to get through it in one piece.  Doing this now means that I’m less likely to hit the festive biscuit tin when the going gets tough – so everyone including me will benefit!

If you’re keen to develop your resilience – give us a shout.  We’re here to help!


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about the author

Nicky Denegri is our Senior Consultant. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop her an email and we will be in touch.

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