Resilience helps in the present but acceptance and inner transformation will shape the future
According to materials science, resilience is the “ability of a material to absorb energy when it is deformed elastically and release that energy upon unloading”. This means that after deformation the material returns to its original shape. During difficult challenges, it seems obvious that being resilient helps people to keep going, to pursue goals and not to succumb under greater pressure. For human beings, resilience can be the ability to mentally or emotionally cope with a crisis and quickly return to the pre-crisis state.
As such, resilience can be extremely helpful in the short-term as it allows us to overcome stress and difficulties, but in the long-term it ignores the fact that we can learn and evolve from it. By returning to the original state or shape after external pressure, we’re not growing and thus wasting valuable resources. The next time we’re under the same kind of stress we will adopt the same strategy and will always come back to the same state, which is the exact opposite of evolving.
Therefore, it is crucial to look beyond resilience and use our human qualities such as acceptance and inner transformation as the basis for building a better self and shaping our own future.
To avoid misunderstandings at the outset, acceptance does not imply passivity. Acceptance is not limited to watching the world (r)evolve around us and assuming an observer stance. Nevertheless, this can be a starting point for a more careful analysis and focus on what can truly be decisive to ensure that the arrival and departure points are not the same. Although not a goal, this can be a powerful tool to reduce high levels of anxiety, hasty decision-making and / or undesirable reactions. Accepting that there are aspects, contexts and events that we do not control, that are completely beyond our control zone and that any minute or second of energy spent on them not only does not help, but may also lead to discomfort, both for the individual and collectively.
Practicing paying attention to what is wrong is a very useful, although very basic, survival strategy. And so, we can rise to a different level of consciousness that will make us focus on what we can control or influence. Leadership, true leadership, is a result of this as leaders focus on what they can control and thus act and take responsibility for their options.
Interesting enough, this kind of leadership is latent in some of us and only manifests itself in moments of crisis or extreme stress. Sometimes it’s not about formal leadership. It can be about individuals who accept what they do not control and assume that they can do something to improve their own lives, even if only a little.
Because this kind of leadership may emerge anywhere in the organization, not exclusively in formal leadership positions, it is crucial to continuously care for and pay attention to leaders as well as individual contributors, to invest in their wellbeing as undiscovered talent can emerge from unexpected places.
I use a very straightforward exercise when working with leaders which is based on a simple question: “how do I want to be perceived”? At first glance, it may seem that we are just working towards an image that does not correspond to who we are but in fact it has to do with becoming aware, just becoming aware, about what I want to be. And what I want to be, unless I live in absolute enclosure, has an impact on others. Since accessing the inner self is often difficult for the self, it may be easier to start from how I want to be perceived and then move forward.
Having said this, there is a need for deep transformation, both individually and collectively and we know that this transformation will happen. We can choose to let things happen in an instinctive and automatic way, using our resilience to avoid succumbing (both at individual and collective level) or we can choose to grab this unique opportunity to contemplate who we want to become in the post-crisis situation.
Moments of greatest tension are moments of greatest need for inner transformation. A time to leave behind essentialist beliefs that we are what we are now, and to seek to take control of what we want to be. All moments are historical, but some become History and others won’t.
As I begin my own self-reflection, I suggest you do the same: “What do we want to be after all this?”
About the author
Maria is a Leadership specialist with over ten years of experience in Leadership Development, Leadership Assessment, Executive Coaching and Culture Change. Maria is part of the leadership consulting services team in Portugal and partners across the firm, working with clients to develop high-performance teams. Maria is a mother of three, a professional Tango teacher and author and co-author of several books. Maria has a degree in Philosophy, an Executive Master in Business and is taking a certification in Executive Coaching.