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Expert Blog: Resilience through Crisis: Bouncing Forward with Hope

Dr Suzanne Ross discusses how, by understanding resilience as a dynamic process of positive adaptation, we can develop our resilience through significant adversity. She offers practical suggestions for building resilience during the coronavirus crisis.

resilience puzzle

Resilience has been a featured development offering by organisations to staff for some time now and has become something of a ‘buzzword’. If you ask people what it means to be resilient, many will say it’s about ‘bouncing back’. But how do you ‘bounce back’ when you’re caught up in a global crisis like COVID-19? First let us revisit what resilience actually is.

The idea of resilience as a concept emerged from clinical psychology with a focus on childhood adversity. Why was it that some children could still thrive during adversity whilst others couldn’t? It was then studied in the context of the armed services and post-traumatic stress disorder; in nurses, in the emergency services and in adults exposed to significantly disruptive events. Through this, resilience as a dynamic process of positive adaptation and as an effective coping strategy took hold. Resilience also found its place in positive psychology as one of four crucial psychological resources alongside hope, efficacy and optimism. Resilience then gained traction in the study of elite sports performance, and in my own area – leadership – as well as a way of helping people thrive in the workplace. Along the way, it’s been conflated with ideas like grit and mental toughness and been distilled into the idea of bouncing back.

A challenge with seeing resilience only as bouncing back is that, as anyone who has gone through significant trauma and adversity knows, you are often changed as a result – your circumstances, your relationships, your health, your outlook, what you value, your sense of purpose. When we see resilience as positive adaptation, we can ‘bounce forward’. We’ve seen some great examples of positive adaptation like the colossal effort that has gone into turning London’s ExCeL Centre into NHS Nightingale Hospital. Doctors, nurses, support workers, planners, event organisers and tradespeople have adapted and collaborated at speed. They have applied their skills and knowledge in a new context and with vision, a sense of purpose, focus and determination, creating something that could significantly improve the outcome of COVID-19 for many people.

Leaders who can role model positive adaptation in a crisis are critical; those who can retain a sense of purpose, learn quickly and apply that knowledge, while bringing people with them by co-creating a vision, providing direction, and offering compassion and hope. Emotions are infectious. In a crisis, leaders who can remain calm, who show up consistently and communicate confidently help diffuse contagious negative emotions. During the crisis, we’ve seen good and bad examples of leadership across the globe, across sectors and across industries - in politics, perhaps within our own organisations or those of our families. We’ve seen leaders who are leading by example and who have stepped up to the mark, made personal sacrifices, pledged resources and aid to their communities, and made commitments to their staff to protect jobs and salaries. We have seen other leaders fail to take responsibility, horde valuable resources and treat employees with a lack of care and compassion. Resilience - positively adapting in adversity - is fundamental to self-leadership and, if you can’t lead yourself, how can you lead others? In my research on leadership talent, success and derailment resilience became a key differentiator between those leaders who could build and sustain success through change, failure and uncertainty, and those who stalled or derailed.

What can we all do to build our resilience through positive adaptation and coping strategies, so that we are more able to bounce forward?

  • Connect to your sense of purpose and meaning through your everyday activities. Many of us feel compelled to ‘find our purpose’ without knowing how to go about doing that, when often we can find purpose and meaning in what we are doing right now. For those transforming the ExCEL Centre, purpose and meaning was found in coming together to create a facility that could be used to save lives.
  • Create for yourself a vision of your future such that you are compelled to want to achieve it. Enforced isolation gives us an opportunity to re-evaluate what we want to achieve, personally and professionally. It also gives us an opportunity to reconnect with our values. When we have a sense of purpose and meaning, along with a vision for our future and a connection to our values, it is easier to stay grounded whilst retaining a sense of hope and optimism for the future.
  • Make sure you have good people around you, who care about you, and who can act as coaches, mentors, connectors, listeners and cheerleaders. This helps to build resourcefulness, to develop knowledge and to provide moral support. Find ways to stay connected to your support network or reach out to others who can help.
  • There is a strong relationship between resilience and emotional intelligence, particularly emotional self-awareness. Tune in to how you are feeling on a regular basis. Are you becoming irritated, frustrated, feeling confined, feeling overwhelmed? How are your energy levels? Can you feel tension in your body? Are you holding things in, bottling them up? Pause, breath, move into another room, rest, sleep.

Resilience can be learnt, it can be developed and it can significantly affect how we react and respond in the current crisis. Rather than bouncing back, we can seek to adapt and implement strategies that will enable us to bounce forward with hope. As you navigate your way through this situation, what are you learning about yourself? You might just be learning that you are more resilient than you thought you were.

Find out more about Dr. Suzanne Ross' research.

Check here for the latest coronavirus advice and updates from NTU.

Expert Blog: Resilience through Crisis: Bouncing Forward with Hope

Published on 1 April 2020
  • Category: Research; Nottingham Business School

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