What does personal resilience mean to you, why should you care and how can you build it?

How the tough keep going when the going gets tough is a question that’s been uppermost in my mind over the past couple of weeks.

Managers across a range of industries from food to finance will no doubt have had a challenging few weeks as various scandals and crises have unfolded in the pages of the press.

Of course it’s often the high profile senior leaders who have had to step up to the plate and deal publicly with issues from horse meat and twitter hacking to financial fiascos and large-scale redundancies. But there will have been a definite knock-on effect behind the scenes too, with managers at all levels under pressure to answer difficult questions and try to recover seemingly disastrous situations.

Research by Professor Cary Cooper and others show that at the heart of success, or failure, in the face of difficult circumstances, is resilience – not just of senior managers but of the workforce as a whole.

So how do people remain calm and cope under pressure – whether it is in the face of a major corporate drama or when they’re on the verge of a melt-down due to a relentless workload and impossible deadlines?

Some interesting research from Ashridge Business School is helping to develop an understanding of how people can develop their own personal ‘resilience’ and respond better to the pressure that work increasingly throws at us.

Researchers studied senior managers in the NSPCC to find out how they thought and behaved under pressure and what kind of steps they could take to improve their ability to cope in stressful situations.

Of course the NSPCC operates in the health and social work industry, which has the highest estimated cases of work-related stress. But the following practical tips which emerged from the research can help managers in any setting cope better with difficult challenges and unwanted change.

Find your sense of purpose

Having structure, commitment and meaning in life will help make you more resilient. A clear sense of purpose can help you assess setbacks better and look at them within the bigger picture. One of the best ways to do this is to think about “who” and “what” is important to you when you are under pressure.

Develop your problem solving strategies

The way people perceive situations, solve problems and manage change is crucial. Take a step back and think about how you approach difficult issues, how often you follow objective logic or how often your judgement is clouded by emotional responses and irrational thinking.

Develop your self-awareness

The more self aware you are the more resilient you will be. Try developing a stronger belief in yourself and your capabilities by looking back at memorable and challenging experiences (both positive and negative) and thinking about what impact these had on your personal development.

Embrace change

Flexibility is an essential part of resilience. By learning how to be more adaptable, you will be better equipped to respond when faced with unexpected work challenges or a personal crisis. This often involves getting outside your comfort zone and increasing your curiosity and openness to new experiences both in and out of work. Resilient people often use an adverse event as an opportunity to branch out in new directions.

Become a continuous learner

Learn new skills, gain new understanding and apply these during times of change. Don’t hold onto old behaviours and bad habits, especially when it’s obvious that they don’t work anymore. Start thinking about what drives your preference towards these old behaviours and bad habits and whether they are truly helpful for the situations you now face.

Get enough sleep

When you feel stressed, it can be all too easy to neglect your own needs. Losing your appetite, ignoring exercise and not getting enough sleep are all common reactions to both everyday pressure and a crisis situation. By taking care of your own needs, you can boost your overall health and resilience and be fully ready to face life’s challenges.

Do the things you enjoy

In situations of increased work pressure it can be extremely difficult to still do the things you enjoy. People often focus on solving the challenge at hand and may work longer and later and to their own detriment overlook other parts of their life. You will feel revitalised if you continue to do things and take part in activities that you enjoy and make you feel good about yourself, even when under pressure.

Of course it’s not just down to the individual, companies themselves can do lots much to help create environments that support people their workers during times of stress.

See Don’t miss part two of our blog next week to find out what you as a business can do to build a more resilient workforce.

‘Moving Towards a Resilient Process: A positive approach to understanding and developing resilience in the NSPCC’ Ashridge Business School www.ashridge.org.uk

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