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Building Resilience

Resilience is now a leadership buzz word, and with good reason. The concept of resilience is very important for nonprofit leaders to understand since change, crisis and failure are inevitable parts of our personal and professional lives. Cultivating resilience in yourself and your organization allows you to bounce back after difficulties, learning from them and even achieving a higher level of performance because of the challenges you have successfully survived!

Resilience is defined as the ability to become strong, healthy and successful again after something bad happens. Resilient people, organizations and communities demonstrate adaptability, optimism, self-confidence, good support networks and a sense of humor.

Organizational self-efficacy, the belief within an organization that it is capable of achieving success or managing a situation, is an important component of resilience. We as leaders need to build our organization’s collective confidence by celebrating accomplishments, expressing confidence in our staff and board members, and generally remaining optimistic. This can be difficult in organizations where the mission is to attend to people in crisis or advocate social change which is not yet broadly embraced—where it can be easy to get discouraged or overwhelmed. Still, communicating in a positive way and championing the vision will be most effective in building up your organization’s capacity to meet its mission as well as overcome adversity.

As I prepared for a recent presentation at the Washington State Nonprofit Conference, I learned about four domains of resilience: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. I also learned about the work of Tony Schwartz’s Energy Project, which coaches corporations on how to foster productive workplaces by attending to the needs of employees in each of these four domains.   For example, physical resilience is supported by allowing employees to take breaks and disengage from work (and email) during off hours. Mental resilience is supported by learning and growth opportunities, time for reflection and planning, and the ability to focus on one thing at a time. Emotional resilience comes from community, belonging and acceptance, positive energy and opportunities to do what you enjoy. Spiritual resilience comes from having a sense of purpose and connection to mission, and is an area where nonprofits should excel.   Bringing these concepts into the workplace is proven to boost productivity as well as morale. Try supervising with resilience in mind.

There are many resources available to coach leaders in building their personal resilience and supporting resilient workplaces. Keeping in balance and acting as a role model for others is a great first step.  If you’d like to read more, I recommend Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance, Bounce : The Art of Turning Tough Times into Triumph, and The Practice of Adaptive Leadership.

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