In today’s work environment, resilience is a vital skill. During challenging times, how can leaders build more resilient mindsets, both for themselves and within their teams? Which strategies actually work, and what small changes will reap big benefits?
Solvej Biddle, Founder of Inspirational Solutions, moderated a panel discussion on this topic at Elevate, a virtual event that brought together powerful changemakers to elevate the way we work.
She was joined by Rob Stevenson, Senior Vice President & General Manager of Facilities at Florida Panthers; Dave Lozano, Founder of Abramozano; Kandi Gongora, Chief Transformation & People Officer at Goodway Group; and Keenan Beasley, Founder of Venture Noire. Together, they shared their insights and experiences of resilience through entrepreneurship, people management, and personal development.
How Can We Define “Resilience”?
Solvej kicked off the discussion by reflecting on what the term “resilience” means to each of the panelists. “One understanding is that it is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties,” she said. Another definition offered by the American Psychological Association is that resilience is “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress.”
Kandi says her own experiences of resilience have been very personal. Her son was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 12. She herself was then diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer shortly after meeting her birth mother for the first time. “After eight months of treatment and rebuilding myself, I’m thriving in my new normal,” she said. “Both of those experiences have given me the opportunity to improve my skills around resilience. I really do believe resilience is a skill that can be learned.”
For Keenan, he found himself digging deep for resilience when his military career was abruptly cut short. “I was a medical discharge coming out of West Point. Most of us go to The Academy expecting to serve. All of a sudden, a month before graduation, I was told I wasn’t going to do that. I felt like a tremendous failure. And I think that sharpened my mind. It made me look at adversity as an opportunity to get better, to learn, and to really grow into who I’m supposed to be.”
Both Dave and Rob also have backgrounds in the military, and said it undoubtedly helped them develop resilient mindsets. “What resilience means to me is having a generally positive outlook that things are going to be okay,” said Dave. “By that, I don’t mean, ‘I’m going to get everything I want,’ but that you are centered in yourself and you know that if you keep on trying for the things you want, life is generally going to come out more in your favor than not.”
“On the surface, resilience is an ability to thrive and overcome when things get hard,” added Rob. “But at the core, for me, it’s all about alignment of your passions. If you don’t have that, you’re not going to have the ability to be resilient when the time comes.”
How Can You Build Resilience in Leaders and in Teams?
“For me, it starts with a foundation of holistic wellness,” says Kandi. “Taking care of myself is almost like being proactive, because when something hits, my mind and body are in a good shape. That helps me prepare for what’s next.”
“For my team, we create a practice and a framework. We have team health monitors and there are a series of questions they ask themselves quarterly. It talks about things like, do you have trust? Are you grounded in the mission and purpose of your team? What behaviors are important? Based on how they score themselves, they have a book of plays that will help them through. We do training and we have wellness programs, but we also try to create frameworks that help them build habits that they can go to when a crisis hits.”
Rob emphasized the importance of system and organizational design in building resilient leaders and teams. “Resilience is a muscle group. If you’re not training that muscle group, you’re not going to make it strong. You need to provide opportunities for your leaders to push past what they think they’re capable of. And if they hit a wall, you have to be there to provide support. It’s like the walls of a building, you’re not just going to make it out of concrete blocks, you’re going to reinforce those blocks with rebar. As leaders of an organization, we’re the rebar, we provide the inner strength to help people withstand what they’re facing.”
Mindfulness, Meditation, and Emotional Control
All of the speakers touched on the value of meditation and mindfulness, which can take many forms. “I always remind myself that my problems are never more abundant than my blessings,” says Keenan. “It’s a very simple philosophy for me, I wake up and I give thanks. I choose to focus on all the positive things at specific moments in the day when things get a little tough.”
Kandi added that taking a moment to physically check in can also be beneficial. “One method that really worked for me, especially when I was going through treatment, is going through a body scan and checking in with every part of your body and releasing the tension that’s in there.”
For Dave, these practices come with the added benefit of helping to control emotions. “As Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor says, emotions are pretty much over from a physiological perspective in 90 seconds, so if you are still angry after the 91st second, you are choosing to be angry. Meditation allows me to stop and give myself that clarity of what is actually going on, so I can take a more accurate and effective next step in whatever problem I’m facing.”
Kandi says this is where action-oriented thinking can also come into play. “If you get to that 91st second and you’re still there, how do you flip that? Name the emotion that you’re feeling but don’t make it part of you. Don’t say, ‘I am mad,’ say, “I feel mad.’ It doesn’t define you, you’re just having a feeling in the moment. Sometimes, we try to have grit to the point that we ignore it, so really lean into it and determine what you can control, and what action you can take to move forward. Even if it’s just a minimum viable step, just one thing to get you to that 91st second, that puts you back in control.”
4 Tips for Building a Resilient Mindset
1. Change the Narrative
Dave’s one key tip for people to take away from the panel was to change the narrative in your mind. “Start by saying, ‘I am a resilient person, I am capable of doing this,’ and you will be amazed where you get.”
2. Practice Self-Compassion
“When something happens, give yourself a little grace,” said Kandi. “If you really struggle with that, ask yourself how you would treat a friend or someone you love in the same situation. Whatever the answer is, move forward with that for yourself.”
2. Keep the Main Thing, the Main Thing
“Really focus on what the most important thing in your life is,” said Keenan. “Put your energy and focus there so you can block out the noise. I truly believe that when you take care of the main thing, everything else falls into place.”
3. Stay Aligned and Rely on Support
“You’ve got to align your passions with what you’re doing. You will not be resilient in something that you don’t care about,” said Rob. “Remember, nobody is above burnout. Realizing when that’s happening and relying on your support structure is so important.”
Resilience is Crucial in Today’s Workplace
Whether you’re in the office, fully remote, or operating in a hybrid model, every workplace has experienced upheaval and challenges in the past 18 months. As we look to the future of work, resilience will certainly remain a valuable skill for leaders to nurture in themselves and in their teams. To learn more about the tools and skills powering the new world of work, watch the other sessions from Elevate, now available on demand.