A number of things brought resiliency to the surface in a critical way this past week. I spoke to a graduate class from the University of Pennsylvania last week about resiliency and organizations, in which my colleague Steve Freeman (who’s class it was) reminded us that there is tremendous opportunity in crisis, regardless of its nature (traumatic, market, or otherwise). Next, I was struck by the differences in how four client systems are currently approaching funding cash-shortfalls—strong board/investor relationships, understanding the fundamentals of one’s business, knowing the company’s cash position, and detailed knowledge of the current state of funding, as well as the options moving forward are all fundamentals for how we think about resiliency. Next, I was asked by a colleague in London to spend time offering our perspective on resiliency to help inform the current efforts of the Rockefeller Foundation in “Helping cities, organizations, and communities better prepare for, respond to, and transform from disruption.” And last, I have been paying particular attention to the ongoing discussions among VCs, entrepreneurs, and others about the increasing rates of depression and worse in the start-up world.

What these have in common is the need for a psychological community to “hold” the individual and organization to mediate the common experiences of pressure, anxiety, change, and so on. Some of us are prepared for the unexpected and some of us find disruptive events upsetting if not disorienting. What is amiss in most talk about resiliency is the failure to recognize that organizations are communities that have a culture and exhibit constructive and destructive “group” behaviors. After all, we “live” in our work community as much if not more than we do in our home! Our work community needs to be able to “hold” us physically and psychologically. Most of the organizations I work with respect work-life balance AND expect their employees to deliver, be a cultural fit, and continue to be motivated, seeking more and more accountability as careers evolve. Today’s social contract is as important as the work contract. Many organizations offer employees a “people first” community in which benefits, pay, the work, the environment, and the quality of life are motivating factors, striving to achieve a balance between enjoying what we do (our role) and who we do it for (the organization).

Just focusing on “risk” and disaster recovery is not wholly resiliency. Resiliency is a state of mind, a community practice, a process, a system, an approach that incorporates physical and psychological support. As a manager, leader and community member, learning how to support one another is crucial. In my conversation with my London colleague, I used the example of the resiliency of Londoners during the 267 days of the German “Blitz”, which devastated London. What was different about London then was the strong sense of community felt while waiting out the destruction in the tubes and bomb shelters below—Londoners lived together, knew each other and depended on each other for support. Similarly, those of us in New York City after 9/11 felt a few days of unusual closeness to complete strangers—we experienced and endured together. Businesses must promote the psychological communities they create, whether to beat the competition, capitalize on a new approach, or simply to build and operate the best and most successful place to work.

So as leaders, we need to build our community by:

  1. Putting people first—without people we have no business
  2. Developing the emotional intelligence of our people, especially leaders
  3. Establishing strong values to guide behavior
  4. Supporting people with healthy (including mental health) benefits and adequate pay
  5. Offering feedback, coaching, mentoring, and development in role
  6. Ensuring that the People/Human Resources team is present at the executive level
  7. Building effective teams by promoting agility, communications, alignment, etc.
  8. Holding people accountable and motivating them to achieve
  9. Having the systems, processes and practices in place

… you get the idea!