5 ways to increase resilience at work

Can you and your team thrive after setbacks? Try these five strategies to build resilience
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Experienced IT leaders understand the importance of resilience – that ability to bounce back from failures, disappointments, detours, and roadblocks – to their organizations. “Leaders who practice resilience have higher levels of engagement, higher customer service satisfaction scores, greater team well-being, and higher levels of productivity,” says Anne Grady, a speaker and consultant who works with executives to develop their leadership, emotional intelligence, and resiliency. “In a time when technology is constantly and rapidly changing, these skills are more important than ever.”

What’s more, resilient IT leaders are more likely to build resilient IT teams by simply modeling the behavior. “How you deal with setbacks, bugs, or issues is going to determine how your team handles it,” says Grady, author of Strong Enough: Choosing Courage, Resilience, and Triumph. “They look to you to see how you deal with challenges and setbacks.”

The problem with resilience, of course, is that you may never really know how resilient you or your employees are until things go wrong.

Resilience is a set of skills, habits, and behaviors that can be cultivated, practiced, and honed over time.

You can, however, increase the likelihood of not only being able to survive setbacks but also to thrive. In fact, resilience is a set of skills, habits, and behaviors that can be cultivated, practiced, and honed over time. “And whether we like it or not,” Grady points out, “life gives us plenty of chances to practice.”

A combination of factors contribute to an individual’s capability for resilience. The primary component, according to the American Psychological Association, is having caring and supportive relationships both within and outside the family. Other factors include the capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out, confidence and self-esteem, good communication and problem-solving skills, and the ability to manage strong feelings and impulses, according to the APA.

[ How strong are your soft skills? Read also: Emotional intelligence test: 5 self-evaluation tools for leaders. ]

The Enterprisers Project asked Grady to share five things IT leaders can do specifically to increase their own and their teams’ resilience at work.

1. Practice self-care

If a spa day, yoga retreat, or Netflix binge isn’t your thing, fear not. Self-care can be much more simple and fundamental. “If you are sending emails at midnight,” Grady notes, “it creates the unintended expectation that others should be responding.” IT leaders should give both themselves and their people permission to tune out and turn off. “We all need to put ourselves in airplane mode from time to time,” Grady says.

Resilient IT leaders will also encourage their teams to set personal and professional goals and take time to care for themselves in whatever form works for them. “It could mean strategically stopping to get out of reactionary mode and take back control of your day, or making mundane tasks more enjoyable,” Grady says. “Encourage people to take lunch away from their desks. This small shift can make a big difference.”

2.  Practice gratitude

Being grateful is the top predictor of your overall well-being.

A number of studies have shown that being grateful is the number-one predictor of overall well-being. If you’re wondering how that works, research shows that gratitude stimulates two regions of the brain: the hypothalamus, which regulates stress; and the ventral tegmental area, which produces feelings of pleasure. It’s no surprise, then, that gratitude also drives resilience.

The good news: You don’t have to have any more things to be grateful for than someone else to stimulate feelings of gratitude. Acting grateful produces feelings of gratitude, according to researchers. CIOs can create their own personal gratitude lists at the beginning or end of their days. Even better, they can share their gratitude with team members. “Make praise specific, sincere, and consistent,” Grady advises. “People who feel appreciated are happier, more engaged, and more productive. Start every meeting with successes and accomplishments. Rather than diving right into a status list, take time to celebrate wins.”

3. Define success

There’s no shortage of work to keep IT organizations busy. But busyness does not cultivate resilience; goals do. “Most of us stay busy being busy, but when we have a clear definition of success, we are working toward a purpose, and this creates buy-in,” says Grady. “The leader’s job is to paint a vision and get others excited about achieving it. Help each team member know their unique role and how they are contributing to the larger goal.”

4. Normalize failure

Failure is not the opposite of success; it’s the path to get there. And it can be a great breeding ground for resiliency. “True growth [only] happens when we step outside of our comfort zones, and that means we are going to fail,” says Grady. IT leaders can inadvertently instill a fear of failure in their teams rather than turning failure into a learning opportunity for individuals and the organization. “One of my Fortune 100 clients [includes] failure on their performance reviews,” Grady says. “If people aren’t failing, they aren’t taking risks and trying new things.”

“Leaving opportunities unexplored is just as high-risk as trying something bold.”

Encouraging such learning is mandatory in the era of agile and DevOps, as Murli Thirumale, CEO, Portworx, recently told us. “I see ‘nothing tried, nothing gained’ as a failure. Leaving opportunities unexplored is just as high-risk as trying something bold. This encourages my teams to try risky or unusual items and worry less about failure,” Thirumale says.

“Something else we’ve done in the past that worked quite well to encourage and build this culture initially is to give a quarterly ‘Out of the Box’ award,” he continues. “We awarded this for a high-risk, creative effort, regardless of success in the traditional sense or not. It helped people see the value of failure.” 

[ Read the full article: How to fight your team's fear of failure. ]

5. Encourage humor and volunteer work

Laughter, bonding with another person, volunteering – these are all resilience builders that IT leaders might not consciously think about but are worth pursuing. “Smiling cools the brain and relaxes your nervous system. Social connection is a greater predictor of longevity than smoking, obesity, or high blood pressure,” Grady says. “Doing good for others floods your brain with dopamine and serotonin, creating a helper’s high.” Teams that volunteer together are more productive and forge better relationships, which can also increase individual and group resilience.

[ Want to lead a more collaborative team? Get the free eBook, Organize for Innovation, by Jim Whitehurst. ]

Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.