Your resilience is about doing, not just being!


We think of resilience in many ways. For many, it is a state of being, a characteristic that defines the ability to bounce back from adversity. However, the work of Erik Hollnagel and an article by Andrew Zolli inspired me to think more about resilience as a state of doing.

Man on top of a rockIn this article, building on their work, I’ll explore what I mean by this, with a particular emphasis on four types of doing that help to enable greater resilience.

Building your capacity to grow

At the heart of this capability lies your abilities in creativity, imagination and foresight.

Some key questions to help you discover the depth of your capacity are these. How well do you secure access to shared resources? How important are your independence and entrepreneurialism? How efficiently and consistently do you learn and grow? How connected are your social networks? In what ways do you welcome and celebrate diversity? What do you do to foster trust and collaboration? How much impact does your meaning making have?

Developing this capacity enables you to improvise, envision alternate scenarios, and plan for an uncertain future. It also promotes a greater sense of self-advocacy and reciprocity that builds your personal resilience levels.

Identifying emerging risks

Fundamental to this activity is your ability to listen. By this, I mean active listening, the kind of listening that means you can hear signals and respond accordingly to them. To do this, you need to be fully present at the moment and listen carefully without judgement.

I enhanced my experience of deep listening by participating in an exercise known as ‘listening pairs’. In the exercise, you and a partner take turns in hearing each other talk on any given subject for five minutes. During your turn to listen, you can only provide verbal cues, and you are not allowed to speak. Try it out; it is quite a challenge, but it is an excellent way to improve your ability to listen properly.

Allied to developing active listening, lies your ability to interpret what you hear. Looking for change promotes new mindsets and relationships that will help you identify different ways to respond to changes emerging.

In your everyday life, noise abounds. So it is unlikely that you will detect every signal coming your way, and indeed some disruptions will arrive with little or no warning. However, fully developing your listening skills will enable you to action responses faster than otherwise might be the case, even if that is just rehearsing what you might do in the event of an anticipated risk.

A core activity that will help you to strengthen your capacity to identify emerging risk is storytelling. That contributes to highlighting the less visible forms of change, which then builds a context and a momentum for action.

Dealing with disruption

Our capacity for dealing with disruptive change is rooted in our psychosocial resilience. Do you have strong social networks? What is the quality of your closest relationships? How good is your physical and mental health? Which beliefs and values underpin your life? How efficiently do you observe those beliefs and values in everyday life?

Becoming more mindful and engaging in mindfulness practices enables a greater capacity for dealing with disruption. Being more emotionally intelligent, stronger at self-regulation, and more in tune with your rhythms helps you to cope better with stress, which inevitably arises from disruptions of all kinds.

Learning to improvise, being better self-organised, using data consistently, and smoothing your interface between self and bureaucracy all build your capacity to deal with disruption.

Growing and transforming

The final set of doing relates to the ways in which you learn from change. When risks emerge, what are your typical responses?

Ideally, you should be honest with your analysis, reflection, and where needed, adopt or adapt to change to address the risk. That might mean sometimes wholesale transformation and significant structural change.

During my time as a Head of Service in Sunderland, I set aside two hours every Friday to reflect on my week and to prepare for the week ahead. That was time alone to review, to assess and to think. I remain convinced that too few leaders spend sufficient time thinking and too much time doing! That doing is often unproductive, and thinking makes for better decisions and actions in the long term.

I also recommend people to journal, to record their thoughts and actions, and to reflect on them on a regular and consistent basis. It not only helps to build better perceptions and understanding but also grows more inclusive relationships and offers a very credible leadership model to those around you.

[Tweet “Resilience is knowing that YOU are the only one that has the power and the responsibility to pick yourself up. – Mary Holloway”]

In my opinion, practising and reflecting on your resilience doing, not just being will enable you to become a better person and leader. Your ability to build your regenerative capacity and your learning and transformation will complement your abilities to sense emerging risks and responding to change.

As always, I welcome your comments and dialogue. If I can be of any assistance to you in developing greater personal resilience, please just ask. You can contact me on or by calling +447958 765972.

Thank you for reading.


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