Resiliency in leadership

Eileen McDargh, CEO (Chief Energy Officer) The Resiliency Group, is a passionate keynote speaker who brings wit, wisdom and results to global organizations. The U.K group Global Gurus surveyed some 25,000 business leaders and ranked her seventh among the top Communication Gurus for 2016. We recently asked Eileen a few questions about the role resiliency plays in thriving organizations. Here’s what she had to say:

How did you become so passionate about helping individuals and organizations define and reach their goals?

Have you ever found yourself saying, “We can do better than this!”? Or perhaps you’ve become aware there might be better ways to solve a problem, to handle an issue, or get people involved and caring. Suddenly, you raised your hand! Leadership comes from a place that troubles your heart – a place that says, “Somebody better do something and that somebody is me.” I started raising my hand at the University of Florida when I was chosen as Area Commander for the C-1 region of Angel Flight, an auxiliary to the Air Force ROTC Arnold Air Society. With women located on campuses in three Southern states and Puerto Rico, I knew we could become more efficient, more connected with important work, and connected with each other. In short, we could transform the culture of our region. I’ve been raising my hand ever since, learning how to engage stakeholders in defining their vision, refining their goals, and strengthening relationships. In the process, I realized that there are specific skills and interventions that can be taught to others.

What are the most important lessons you’ve had to learn about leadership over the course of your career?

“Had to learn” is a fascinating phrase. It is when I have failed or come short of the mark that I discover important lessons. Trust me, I am still learning. Probably the biggest one is that vision must be created by everyone, not just a select few. Also, people need to self-select what part they wish to play in moving toward that vision. This isn’t done by awarding a job description but rather by allowing individuals to choose that role that interests them most. Interest trumps talent in gaining energy and buy-in.

How would you define resiliency?

The dictionary has it all wrong when it comes to humans. I define it as the life-skill that allows humans to grow through challenge or opportunity so they wind up wiser and better. It is NOT bounce back. There is no back. Ever. I think resiliency (and its partner energy) are needed not just in tough times but also in great times. A wonderful opportunity also requires resiliency – a stick-to-it-ness and grit.

Why do you believe resiliency is a critical quality for leaders and organizations?

As John Mattone says in his book, “Change is the new constant.” In a world on constant change, organizations need to be constantly scanning the horizon, looking for better processes, new products and newer ways to integrate vastly different people into a workforce.

What does resiliency look like within an organization?

In a large organization, you might find departments that are more open to exploring options and to being adaptable. Some departments get it before the larger entity. In smaller organizations, agility could come easier just because of the size. But the look? Let me say I would sense resiliency based on the optimism and comfort I can observe and hear in the rank and file. That says much.

How can leaders foster a culture of resiliency?

I believe all leadership is an inside out job. Does a leader practice the skills of adaptability, agility, laugh-ability and alignment? Does the leader recognize effort to try new things, even if they fail. Does the leader listen widely and deeply to others in order to learn from viewing points instead of relying only on her point of view.

What are the most common pain points your clients come to you with?

Mergers, organizational shifts, consolidations are just some of the events that make folks anxious. Sometimes it is when a new team has been formed and the leader wants to help everyone value individual differences, come together on a vision, and understand roles and responsibilities.

How do you help them transform?

I don’t. I tell all my clients that transformation is their job. I own the process but they own the outcome.

What individuals or organizations do you admire for their resiliency?

I find lessons by watching individuals go through times that test their resiliency. When my sister lost her beloved husband, her grief was massive and long. Yet, she threw herself into a filming project that had students discover resiliency while sailing on a small boat through the Caribbean. She went outside herself to help others and in doing so, felt some measure of comfort. There’s Lola, age 86. She insists her name means Laugh Out Loud A lot. Too make physical challenges to mention that started at birth and just galloped forward. With the last stroke she determined she would “dance” on her 86th birthday. This is from a woman who has uses a cane and has a dropped foot. Her determination and grit got her “dancing” which meant standing with help and moving her feet carefully.

What can we learn from them?

Resiliency ultimately begins with a state of mind that says life’s experiences will NOT determine life’s outcomes. An inner locus of control allows individuals to look around, ask what is within their power to control, and then take action.

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