Forget your impressive work experience or your prestigious alma mater. Ask executives which employees they deem indispensable, and they point to the ones with proven resilience, found research from Accenture. Experts define resiliency as “the ability to adapt successfully in the face of stress and adversity.” We’re talking about the ability to bounce back and adapt, to overcome challenge and make it work no matter the tough experience.
Do you have the chops? Or better yet, do you want to learn how to forge ahead when you’ve just experienced a pretty harsh setback? Find out what we know about resilient people and the surprising ways they turn the other cheek to adversity.
They Know People Have Short Memories
All you have to do is look at how leaders in the limelight (think: Bill Clinton, Martha Stewart, Meg Whitman) have bounced back from scandal, and we can learn something from their resiliency. Powerful people know that a little controversy won’t necessarily hold them back from the respect of their peers and colleagues over time.
People have short memories, say University of Connecticut researchers who studied the trajectory of politicians who were exposed for sketchy deeds. So if you’re recently mortified by an escapade that you think no one will ever forget, take heart. It appears to take about four years for those around you to put that scandal in the past. So should you.
They Know What Won’t Kill You Makes You Stronger
Got recently laid off? A tree crashed through your roof? Try not to wallow during tough times, say psychological scientists, because, in fact, setbacks can make you stronger. A University of Buffalo study published in the Association of Psychological Science journal looked at subjects in two ways. First, they found that those who had experienced some negative events in their lives fared better than those who had many traumatic events as well as the ones who had no terrible experiences at all. Second, they studied people who had chronic back pain. They found that those who had some bad events in their past also handled the pain better than those who said they’d had a lot of bad experiences or those who had none.
It appears a little trauma is actually good for honing our coping skills, say study authors. Knowing how to tap deep for the strength to plough through are skills we build upon from past bad times.
They Depend on Their Support Systems
When the going gets tough, it’s not the time to assert your autonomy. Rather, if you’re in the throes of a stressful life event, seek out your family and chums. They actually provide protective benefits to your mental and physical well-being, found a study in the journal Psychiatry. “Social support is essential for maintaining physical and psychological health,” wrote the authors. “Social support may moderate genetic and environmental vulnerabilities and confer resilience to stress.”
One way your social network protects you physiologically when you’re experiencing hard times? Their presence appears to kick in the positive benefits of oxytocin, a powerful brain neurotransmitter, which can mitigate everything from blood pressure to anxiety during an aversive job interview. Go on, meet up with your best friend. A good laugh and a hug just may be what the doctor ordered.
They Are Grittier
You know all those T-shirts that riff on the British motivational posters “Keep Calm and Carry On” from WWII? Turns out, Winston Churchill was onto something that helped the Brits endure the bombings and poison gas. They needed stamina to stay the course during a time of fear and upheaval. In other words, as recent University of Pennsylvania scientists dubbed it: They had “grit.”
“The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course.” This research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology set out to document just how much intelligence, or grit, correlated to success by studying Ivy League undergrads from the prestigious U.S. Military Academy, West Point. Their findings? The “prodigiously gifted” didn’t necessarily end up at the top of their fields in investment banking, academia, law, journalism, painting or medicine. Rather it was the ones who were grittier. So don’t get intimidated by the fancy degrees or seeming pedigree of peers when job searching. The true measure of success boils down to sustained and focused drive in the face of difficult goals.
They Take Big Risks -- and Learn from Setbacks
According to Erica Golden, MA, SPHR, a San Francisco career coach, you’re building your “resiliency muscle” any time you fall short of your expectations. “Successful people are those who try new things and take risks, and when they ‘fail,’ they learn as quickly as they can and try something different. In a fast-paced work world, learning from your failures fast means you reach success faster too. I call this the ‘fail in order to prevail’ strategy of resiliency,” Golden says.
Remember that setbacks are part of life and that they’re temporary, she advises. If you’re going to be successful, you have be willing to take big risks and learn from them.
They Get Physical
Ever wonder why business colleagues play golf together or organize a run-for-charity team? That’s because physical health isn’t just good for the mirror, it’s actually connected to better performance and resilience on the job. It’s a surefire coping mechanism, says Amanda Abella, Miami-based life coach and motivational speaker. “Go get physical. Sometimes we are so wrapped up in the situation that we can't even think clearly. Taking the time to step outside of it and move your body can help you have ‘aha! moments’ you never might have thought of otherwise.” While it may seem counterproductive because you're on the clock, taking care of yourself is the best way to avoid burnout and actually find some solutions.
They Reframe Failure
Here’s what we can learn from CEOs. Abandoning that sinking ship (read: a company on the precipice of failure) won’t help your career. In fact, staying put can actually be better for your success in the long run, according to a journal article published recently at Harvard Business School. “In Silicon Valley, the fact that your enterprise has failed is actually a badge of honor,” found Shikhar Ghosh, a Mel Tukman Faculty Fellow at Harvard Business School. It’s deemed a profound learning experience by peers, says Ghosh, the former founder of eight entrepreneurial companies and someone who knows a bit about how to bounce back.
The key difference between being viewed as a failed or an effective C-suite veteran? The ability to seeing disappointments as raw material for improvement. Say it’s not your company that’s collapsing, but you’ve just experienced a setback in a goal, such as your best salesperson being unable to close a deal with an important client. As a supervisor, you could blame your salesperson that you usually have confidence in. Or, better yet, says Ghosh, you see this hiccup as an indicator that something may be wrong with your product or message. A good boss will go back to the drawing board internally to turn bad luck into gold.