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Tough Times Demand Resilient Leaders
By Eileen McDargh

The stock market gyrates with unpredictable and heartburning results. Icons of solid companies become straw figures before balance sheets. Children are abducted from their front yards and networks of terrorists spiral throughout the world. Religious institutions cast shadows of duplicity while El Nino brings strange fish to the California coasts and out-of-control fires head toward ancient Sequoias.

Tough times. It’s enough to cause all of us to stand like the proverbial “deer in headlights”, mutter “the sky is falling”, or else spring into action. The latter would be fine but it’s often a knee-jerk response based on what we’ve done in the past. Trouble is that the present doesn’t look like the immediate past.

Whether you’re leading a Fortune 100 company, a small department, or an enterprise of one, now is the time to hone your resiliency skills. But first, let’s update the definition of “resilient”. In 1824, Webster defined it as: “the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress.”

That definition works for explaining metal but not for the mettle of the human system. Consider this: The compressive stress to an organizational body can be the result of bloating mergers. Mergers now meet mania and layoffs distort the workloads and customer care. If this is the case, the resilient organization must carefully think what size and shape will serve it for the long haul. Recovering its size and shape might be the worst thing!

At the risk of insulting Webster, I define resiliency as “ the capacity to cultivate strengths to positively meet the challenges of living; the ability to bounce back from adversity while maintaining personal and corporate integrity.”

Some key resilient strengths are found in using HOPE as an acronym: Head talk and Heart walk. Optimism. Purpose, passion and persistence. Energy and Enjoyment.

Head talk asks that we critically explore our thinking process. Are we stuck in out-moded patterns of behaviors that no longer serve us? What assumptions are we making and what actions can we take if the assumptions are confirmed? What resources can we call upon? How have we nurtured our relationships and support network? Are we being truly HONEST with ourselves about our own fears? What voices do we need to listen to—even if we don’t want to?

Heart walk is truth in action. It means we keep our word. Trust is the password of our time. It is also the cornerstone of relationships. Since an inability to get along is the single biggest reason for failure, heart walk builds relationships through connecting at more than cerebral levels.

Optimism arises from our anticipation of a positive outcome as well as our ability to help produce that outcome. Dr. Martin Seligman’s decades-long research indicates that optimism can be learned by listening carefully to our internal dialogue and challenging negative beliefs. Learned Optimism is a book that should be on everyone’s reading list.

Purpose, passion and persistence work like a three-legged stool in holding up a resilient leader. Purpose implies that you have a reason for being on this earth and it is not “all about you”. Since the odds of a human egg being fertilized are 220 trillion to one, you are NOT a mistake.

If purpose is the “why” you are here, passion is the “what”. It’s that activity that gets your juices flowing. Somehow, somewhere it must be in your life. Find a way to put it there and then persist in the doing. Pablo Casals knew he was put on earth for music. His passion was the cello. Even severely crippled with arthritis, his resilient spirit persisted through the pain and he played like an angel.

Energy and enjoyment spark up the human engine. In complex time, our energy sources need to be renewed and refreshed. Sleep, exercise, solitude, and meditation pump the exhausted spirit with the octane of resiliency. Play and laughter are birthrights of the human spirit. Laughter is the canary of hope. If the laughter has died, so too has your resiliency. Lighten up. Find what’s zany about life. Watch children at play. Don’t take life so seriously—you won’t get out of it alive.

Philosopher Howard Zinn wrote that to have hope, one doesn’t need certainty, only possibility. In an upside down world—there are lots of possibilities for positive change and growth. Let H.O.P.E. support YOUR resilient spirit.

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© 2009 by Eileen McDargh. All rights reserved.

Eileen McDargh, CSP, CPAE, is an internationally known speaker, author and seminar leader. Her book ‘The Resilient Spirit’ is the companion piece to her talks on resiliency and spirit. For more information on Eileen and her presentations, please call 949-496-8640 or visit www.TheResilientSpirit.com

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