I get to coach individuals and teams when they are really struggling. But when a manager asks me to find ways to help their team to be ‘more resilient’ alarm bells go off in my head. In my experience, what they mean is, “These people aren’t performing the way I need them to. Make them do the work I’m giving them without complaining, please. They need to stop crying, stop snapping and stop going off sick every 5 minutes. Give them some training so they understand how important it is that they just get on and do everything on time, with no mistakes and no flapping. I don’t understand what’s WRONG with them.” Well, we know, don’t we?
One of the bitter-sweet perks of working for an organisation that places unreasonable demands on its people is that when the workforce is running on empty and in danger of cracking up, they pull in motivational speakers to reinvigorate everyone and get them feeling all perky again.
I can’t tell you how many of these corporate events I’ve attended as an audience member – too many to count. But despite my cynicism there was one person whose message really struck a chord and I’ve been practising what she suggested on a daily basis ever since.
Debra Searle MBE set out as part of a two-person team in an international race to row across the Atlantic, from Tenerife to Barbados. Unfortunately once they set off, just as land disappeared over the horizon, her partner suffered from such debilitating sea-sickness and anxiety that after 14 days they agreed that she would carry on alone. A journey of 3300 miles that should have taken two of them 6 weeks took Debra 3 ½ months. I re-read The Journey today and remembered how absorbing her story was – nearly being mown down by a tanker, facing 30ft waves, hanging out for a day with a giant sea turtle and a horrible incident involving emptying a poo bucket into the wind – it’s really something. And the message I remember her giving at the conference is right there too, which is: choose your attitude. Every day she would wake up and no matter what, she would decide on what her attitude was going to be.
My interpretation of Debra’s ‘choose your attitude’ is to pick a word of the day and let that influence any decisions I need to make. Sometimes it’s a value that I want to practice more. Other days it’s something I think would benefit the situation I’m facing. For example, over the past month my word of the day has included:
For example, yesterday my word was ‘integrity’ - for me, integrity means ‘do the right thing’. I had a slightly odd text from a client who was wanting to postpone an appointment. Something about it was bothering me and at first I decided to let it go. She’s an adult, after all, I thought. If she wants to postpone that’s up to her, so what? Also I’m pretty busy so I’ll just text her back quickly. But then I tapped into my word of the day: the right thing to do would be to act on my gut feel that there’s something up and I should have a conversation with her, not avoid this. I gave her a call and yes, there had been a fairly significant problem which we resolved and she’s now back on track. If I hadn’t acted with integrity I would have missed that opportunity and the chance for some of my other values – connection, impact, curiosity – to be given a chance to shine as well.