Cultivating Your Personal Resilience

Cultivating Your Personal Resilience Photo

Written by: Mary Stacey, Context Consulting

In today’s ‘always on’ environment, leaders experience pressure, information overload and constant distraction. Over time this sabotages many things, from their wellness to their ability to be personally resilient: present and productive during turbulence. Perhaps its because of this that we’re hearing a lot about resilience these days.

Resilient people are more healthy, hopeful, optimistic, and positive, able to learn and adapt more quickly, turn adversity into a growth experience, and flourish in times of change. Its easy to see why they can be effective leaders.

The Impact of Resilient Leaders
Resilient leaders stand out. They boost their team’s performance. They exude spaciousness that allows others to open up and take risks, making it possible to accommodate diverse perspectives and needs. Their emotional self-regulation helps the team work through conflict creatively rather than become polarized. They contribute their resilience to pivotal team conversations where collaboration and collective intelligence are essential, creating a climate that is less reactive and more responsive. Their teams spend less time fire-fighting and more time being proactive.

Google has found that resilient leaders create the most important dimension of team success: a climate of psychological safety. In contrast, non-resilient leaders who are reactive and emotionally off-balance create a climate of threat, triggering the brain’s shut-down fight-flight-freeze response. Threat undermines a team’s ability to form trust relationships, stay goal-focused during uncertainty, and bring their diversity to solve complex problems—all essential elements of collaboration.

Teams of Resilient Leaders
Teams of resilient leaders achieve exponential benefits. Their psychologically safe environment has coherence, things make sense and flow more easily. The team experiences high energy and continuously renews its sense of purpose. Conversations are open and vulnerable, helping the team access greater capacity to lead complex change. At peak performance, the team is collaboratively resilient, able to quickly improvise and adapt in ongoing turbulence.

Building Collaborative Resilience
Here are some ideas for developing your personal resilience and turning it into a leadership act that supports collaboration.

1. Cultivate your personal resilience
A recent Harvard Business Review study demonstrated that even ten minutes of daily mindfulness practice produces improvement in resilience, the capacity for collaboration, and the ability to lead in complex conditions.

Developing a personal practice (journal writing, breathing for relaxation, embodiment exercises) will help you to remain present, emotionally self-regulated, and capable of performing at your best. Over time you’ll spend less time in threat response and be better able to thrive in uncertainty.

2. Turn your resilience into a leadership act
You can translate your personal resilience into a leadership act by modeling presence: the ability to focus on the current moment, be open to diverse perspectives, listen and reflect. When others see that your presence combines with the performance level you are able to maintain, you will be demonstrating how they, too, might contribute to collaborative resilience in turbulent times.

3. Facilitate collaborative resilience in your team
Begin your meetings with a check in. Combine the HBR study’s ‘mindful minute’ with a round-table response to a question as simple as ‘How are you?” This allows team members to settle in, re-connect with themselves, choose their quality of attention, and build trust with others before turning to the issue at hand.

Be aware that your team members’ brains are constantly evaluating what you say and do in relation to threat. Design your meetings and pivotal conversations to maximize creative conflict and minimize threat. You’ll know when you’re in the zone: your team will experience a surge of energy and a renewed sense of purpose. They’ll anticipate disruption with confidence and navigate it with greater ease.

I introduce these strategies, along with many others, during Leading with Personal Resilience, part of the Collaborative Leadership Essentials at the Kingbridge Conference Centre.

One Second Ahead: Enhance Your Performance at Work with Mindfulness (Hougaard, Carter, and Coutts, 2015)

How to Bring Mindfulness to Your Company’s Leadership (Harvard Business Review, 2016)

What Google Learned from its Quest to Build the Perfect Team (New York Times, 2016)

Kingbridge founder John Abele speaks on collaboration

Conversations that Build Trust, Agility, Resilience & Creativity

image for tree post for Michael

Last week at Kingbridge we unveiled our first newly designed leadership workshop, Leading through Conversations that Matter, hosted by Michael Jones. One of the techniques that Michael shared with the group involved using the ecology of a tree to help us understand the distinction and value of learning how to host three very different levels of conversations.

Those who attended the workshop found this valuable so we thought we would share the information with you.

Most organizations are not short of innovative ideas. What they do lack, however, is an environment that allows for the careful enrichment of the soil in order for these seeds of possibility to take root and grow.

What builds this soil is conversation. But not all conversations are the same. The leader’s ‘art’ involves knowing which conversation they are taking part in – and which ones they need to be taking part in – in order to achieve the results they desire.

One picture that helps us understand different levels of conversation is the image of a tree. This image offers a lens for making distinctions between three levels of conversation and how each contributes to growing the culture of an organization.

Level 1: Tactical/Incremental
In Level 1 conversations – the primary question is, “how do we do things differently?”

In Level 1 conversations, the focus is on the distribution of power, influence and getting things done. There is an emphasis on negotiation advocacy, tools, techniques, problem solving, action planning and results.

Level 1 conversations see the enterprise as a mechanical system for which all problems have a corresponding technical or expert-driven response. To extend the tree metaphor, Level I conversations – like the upper branches and the leaves of the tree – are highly sensitized and reactive to changing circumstances. Because they are focused on the performance of the parts rather than the system as a whole, their emphasis is on efficiency-based thinking, quantitatively-driven results and mechanistic responses to problems.

Level 2: Strategic/Transactional
Here the primary question is, – “how do we do different things?”

At Level 2 we see not only the leaves and branches, but their connection to the trunk of the tree as well. Here the focus is on structure and strategy as well as rational problem-solving through policies, technology, detailed plans and systems thinking.

Level 2 conversations shift the emphasis from efficiency to effectiveness, embracing a human resources lens which encompasses human assets and potential, matching people to jobs and working in teams.

Both Level 1 and Level 2 conversations tend to focus on change that is instrumental. They don’t ask the larger questions like ‘why’ or ‘what for?’ For this more profound shift of mindset to occur and to navigate the complexities of a rapidly changing world, we need to look to another level of conversation.

Level 3: Regenerative/Transformational
With regenerative Level 3 conversations the primary question is, – not on “how we act differently”, but in “how we see differently.”

Here, there is a shift from mechanistic thinking to engaging with the organization as a living system. If the other levels focus on the leaves, branches and trunk, Level 3 conversations examine the soil and the root system underneath.

By ‘regenerative’, I mean conversations that focus not only on the people, the power and the structure of the system, but also on the culture and the sense of place where the leader is also the steward, the sage or prophet, the storyteller and place maker.

At Level 3 there is a greater attention on dialogue and listening together as well as on the regenerative power of beauty, destiny, synchronicity and mythic thinking in which art and poetry, music and celebration carry an equal voice. Generative conversations are participative, reciprocal and imaginative. They involve a collective search for deeper meanings and insights to emerge.

In so doing, these conversations shift the focus from preserving the life of the tree to growing the tree into a sturdy and fertile oak through the constant turning and care of the soil.

Eighty percent of what determines the health of a tree is the condition of the soil – the ‘magic’ that supports and nourishes its roots. In the context of an organization, this ‘magic’ is found within its creative spirit: conversations about what we aspire to, about when we feel vital and alive, about the gifts and heritage from our past and our present challenges and opportunities. These are ‘root’ conversations that focus on the common roots of our shared human experience. As such, they create the fertile ground – so frequently passed over in a fast-paced environment – where the seeds of our future can take root and grow.

It is commonly believed that the fastest way to change a system is with Level 1 and Level 2 conversations. So the overwhelming majority of an organization’s attention is usually focused in these two areas and the typical goal-setting processes that have been used for decades emphasize specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and strategic time-bound results. Yet these rarely correlate with either work satisfaction or real success.

We need to be highly literate with Level 1 and Level 2 conversations while being aware that they concentrate our attention on the most obvious and visible issues. They promote an expert-driven ‘outside in’ response and rarely evoke a fundamental shift of mind when practiced without Level 3.

All levels of learning are necessary, but only Level 3 conversations invite us into seeing new possibilities in the future. As such they take tactical and strategic learning in new directions that could not have been foreseen in advance.

The practice of engaging in Level 3 conversations connects us with how nature itself creates and sustains life. We become allies with each other and our destiny in ways that intellect, tactics, and strategies alone cannot encompass. Our destiny is rooted in the rich soil of intuitive wisdom, the power of place, our heart’s desires, our greatest aspirations, the gifts in each person and the collective intelligence that has called us to be together on this journey.







Collaborative crowdsourcing the Boston Marathon bombers, and more

For me, the response to the marathon bombings has been a fascinating example of the new open and empowered world we live in today.  I am fascinated by the collaboration between expert groups and the public at large in putting this story together.

As these two young Chechen terrorists discovered, it’s hard to hide nowadays.  Multiple security cameras documented much of their movements at the bombing site and many more personal digital cameras, both still and video, covered other aspects of the event, and much of their movements afterwards.

More importantly, tweets, Facebook pages and other social media, along with more traditional television news , kept massive numbers of both local and distant observers up to date on what was going on minute by minute.  A lot of the early reports were wrong, but gradually the wisdom of crowds phenomenon, along with dogged reporting by professional journalists kept putting the pieces together and got it right.   Despite strong criticism from the FBI and some older professionals about the out-of-control speculation that would damage reputations of innocent people (“leave the police work to the professionals”), it is hard to argue against the fact that public participation, and collaboration, substantially shortened the time frame to capture and understanding why and how it happened.

Just as important and amazing was the extraordinary leaderless collaboration from hundreds, maybe thousands, of individuals, including runners, observers and total strangers who rushed to help the wounded at the site and in the hospitals.   They knew what to do without guidance.  Area hospitals were well coordinated to share treating the wounded.  Hospital personnel, many off duty, heard the news and returned to help staff their team in preparation for the arrival of a rash of ambulances.   Others organized fund raising drives to help the families whose lives had been so disrupted.

Perhaps the greatest outcome of this outpouring of caring and constructive assistance is the positive culture of this community that comes from recognizing they can all contribute to overcoming tragedy.

I’d like to think every community can do this.

This week’s Kingbridge knowledge gift is a suggestion for creating a climate of collaboration.  And it is to practice random acts of kindness.   You might say my “knowledge gift” is to share knowledge gifts.   If you give something away with no expectations of getting something in return, you can create a “pay-it-forward” mind set.   But, there is a delicate balance and a bit of a paradox.   It can’t be seen as selling.  That will be viewed as a hidden agenda.   And it shouldn’t be seen as sympathy, or just kindness.   That can come across as disempowering or condescending.   Ideally it should come across as sharing a passion or a lesson that shows caring and respect.

What is ‘Real’ Collaboration?

Before we can dive into defining ‘real’ collaboration we need to clarify the type of collaboration we are referring to, which is collaboration for creative problem solving.  In these collaborations there is a diverse group of participants who are not just working together but harnessing the collective intelligence of the group to produce innovative ideas, solutions and actions.

Real collaboration results from a delicate balance between too little and too much control.  It works best when there is a high level of creativity in the group, a common goal, a sense of urgency and a certain amount of friction in the group.   However, even with these components collaboration will fail if the behaviours that result from the pressure and tension are not moderated appropriately.  The recipe for collaboration has many ingredients including design, leadership and environment.

Successful collaboration is often seen in times of crisis, when the common goal of a group is survival.  For example, the current mining disaster in Chile: 33 miners trapped underground for 17 days before being discovered managed to survive on 48 hours worth of rations.  This feat itself could only have been made possible through significant collaborative effort among the trapped miners.  All 33 were dedicated to a common goal, the sense of urgency profound, and any self serving behaviours moderated for the benefit of their collective survival.<

Hundreds of Heads are Better than One

Last week we made the important distinction between Social Networking and Collaborative Networking in an attempt to assist you in deciphering which option is better for your organization.  This week I wanted to share an example of  a community using both.

The general rule of thumb for anyone seeking a diagnosis for any condition is to always seek a second opinion.  Well, now you can seek hundreds of opinions!  A number of ‘diagnostic’ medical sites have cropped up across the web, giving patients the opportunity to describe their symptoms to a network of medical professionals and seek diagnosis (This application would be considered social networking as it benefits the individual – see last post).

One such site “Doctors Lounge” not only provides visitors the opportunity to seek diagnosis from a large network of doctors, it also provides the health care professionals a space to collaborate on articles, projects and even patient care issues (This is collaborative networking – see last post).

The medical community seems to be leading the charge integrating Social and Collaborative networking into their practices.  This is an encouraging thought – I don’t know about you but if my doctor was having trouble with a diagnosis or treatment of mine I feel much more secure knowing that he/she has a network to collaborate with on solving this problem.  A diagnosis agreed upon by 100 doctors is by far more reassuring than one prescribed by a single physician.

The question is of course whether your doctor participates in these collaboratives?  It is likely that membership in medical networks will become a qualifier for selecting a family physician and perhaps even a licensing requirement………………………… I know I will be asking mine.

Wisdom of Crowds -Some things you need to know to make it work

The theory that a collective can solve problems better than most individuals within a group, including ‘experts’, has gained attention in recent years.  Perhaps the greatest misconception surrounding the theory of the ‘Wisdom of Crowds’ has been that solving any problem using this approach will garner superior results, when in actuality there are specific conditions and situations within which collective problem solving may not be the best approach.

Let’s examine a common scenario:

Company A is planning their annual strategic planning meeting and the President has decided that they want to make the plan a collective decision among representatives of all the departments to ensure that all facets of the organization are taken into consideration. So, equipped with their flipcharts and the 15 participants they go through the process of recording everyone’s input and ideas for strategic components.  They split the group into teams, each assigned one of the ideas to drill down into possible tactics for execution, all the while scribing away.  By the end of the second day there are 50 flipchart pages composed of the collectives ideas and possible tactics as a take away that the President will now have his assistant type up into a fluid document.  From this document of the collectives input the President will now formulate the official strategic plan for Company A. 

Why is this not a good example of a ‘Wisdom of Crowds’ approach?

Let’s first talk semantics and some definitions in context:

The Wisdom of Crowds approach depends upon diversity.  However, not diversity as it is generally accepted to represent social differences such as culture, age, gender, profession etc. but rather diversity in mental models which define how many approaches a person has to solve a problem.  Experts generally know a lot about one thing while other informed but not expert individuals know a little about many things.  Therefore, experts tend to use the same mental model (problem solving approach) in most situations and stick to explanations that fall within the realm of their expertise.  Informed non-experts on the other hand are more likely to have several mental models and have a greater capacity to examine a problem and make fresh connections while linking together diverse sources of information. This lends itself to the notion that greater accuracy in collective problem solving can be achieved with fewer experts and more informed non-experts in the room.

Diversity at this level is generally only of value if the problem is complex (encompasses many units in a system).  If you have an electrical problem it will be of little value to have someone from the accounting department and sales in the room to help solve the problem when all you need is an electrician (an expert).  As such, the first step in determining whether a collective is better suited to solve a problem or not is to understand the type of problem you are dealing with.

Should it be determined that the problem is indeed complex and a ‘Wisdom of Crowds’ approach is appropriate, the next necessary condition to make this method work is an accurate and efficient means of aggregation – bringing the groups information together in a useable form.  Useable form is the key to this definition.  Aggregation in general is ‘collecting units into a whole’, which you need to do but for ‘Wisdom of Crowds’ application the information you aggregate must then be applied to the development of an solution by the collective through polling or voting.