Way back in 1997, one-hit wonders Chumbawumba sang ‘I get knocked down, but I get up again. Cos you’re never gonna keep me down’.
In more prosaic terms, I’d call this resilience. Dictionary.com defines resilience as:
- the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity.
- ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy.
Most dictionaries have similar definitions. I’m going to stick my neck out here and challenge all these dictionaries, however, because I think that these definitions miss key points about resilience as demonstrated by human beings.
The first definition suggests that resilience is about returning to the ‘original form.’ Yes, after minor setbacks we might simply return to the original form, but often the challenges that really test our resilience mean that we end up re-shaped. Maybe we have a deeper understanding of ourselves and our abilities, maybe we have learned about others and their strengths, maybe we have changed at a fundamental level. I certainly know that some of the toughest times in my life – times when I’ve really had to dig into my resilience – did not see me return to the shape I used to be. And I don’t believe that should have been the case: the challenges that I was experiencing were far too profound for that. So, I don’t agree that resilience for humans is always about returning to the original shape.
And with the second definition, I’d challenge the idea that resilience is the ability to recover readily from a challenge. This is sometimes defined as the ability to ‘bounce back’ from adversity. But what about the times that we have to work through really tough times, and it takes effort, energy and focus to come out the other side. Isn’t that resilience too?
Like many leaders, I feel that my resilience has been well and truly tested over the last few months. As a result, I don’t feel that I am the same shape as a business person, as a leader or as a business consultant and coach. And that’s been invaluable. I’ve reflected, learned and re-shaped – and I believe will be better as a result. But this hasn’t been achieved readily. It has taken some dark days, working through some big doubts and mining depths of spirit, hope and focus that I certainly would prefer not to mine too often.
This has felt like resilience to me.
My colleagues and I at CommsMasters have been taking the opportunity to catch up with leaders across a range of organisations over the last two weeks and look forward to speaking to many more as we all get settled back to work after the summer period. Resilience shines through in these conversations. Organisations and the leaders who lead them have been through so many challenges during 2020 and yet there is real energy and positivity apparent. For many, there has been a measurable shift in outlook and focus since April and May. And everyone has had to make decisions and implement changes that they would never have believed would be required this time last year.
Lots of leaders are sharing just how proud they are of the resilience their teams have shown, lots of leaders are evidencing their own resilience but are too modest to mention it explicitly and many are talking about how their organisations and their people have learned and grown from the experience.
We have had the opportunity to lead through unprecedented times and (as one leader put it back in May) to be pioneers as a result. As leaders share their stories and their experiences, the resilience they talk about isn’t about being the same shape, or about learning and growth being readily attained.
It’s been tough, it’s been challenging, it’s taken soul-searching and it’s been exhausting too. I’ll be sharing some of the key themes that have come out of our recent conversations over the next few weeks.
For today though, just take time out to notice the resilience you’ve shown, let go of the modesty that prevents you appreciating your own resilience and maybe even have a little dance (possibly best done in private) to Chumbawumba’s hit in celebration – you can listen here.