Be hopeful. Hope has several definitions, but I like to define hope as a belief or expectation that something will happen or work out despite everything in your situation telling you it will not. Resilient people are also hopeful. We have a client in education who continues to see the glass full (not even half full but filled to the rim). This client sees the opportunity in her challenges and puts new plans in place to move educational opportunities in a new and successful direction.
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laurie Cure.
Laurie is the CEO of Innovative Connections, a consulting firm focused on enhancing organizational effectiveness by supporting leaders and teams to improve organizational performance. She holds a doctorate in industrial and organizational psychology and a master’s degree in business administration. She is also the author of Leading Without Fear.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
After starting my career in business, marketing, and strategic planning, I quickly realized that leaders and organizations could not succeed without understanding human behavior, as well as the role of emotions and cultural differences in the workplace. As I sought personal fulfillment and purpose in my career, I discovered the importance of helping leaders and organizations embrace the health of their work environments by focusing on their needs. These included changing organizational structures, processes, and environments without ignoring their impact on people. After careful consideration, I started Innovative Connections in 2008. We have grown consistently over the years and welcome every opportunity to elevate the people we work with to be more successful.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
While there are many, I would love to share some recent examples that underscore the significance of resilience as a vital survival skill. For nearly two years, the world has been immersed in COVID-19, to the point of emotional exhaustion. Our aspiration at Innovative Connections focuses on the intersection of people and work. The pandemic has created extreme levels of burnout from our clients who work in a variety of industries. Stress levels and the ability to cope are mismatched and it is resulting in both dissatisfaction and fatigue. Additional societal and organizational dynamics of fear, anger, resentment, contempt, and other emotions are complicating people’s ability to be resilient in the face of struggle.
Throughout the pandemic, I have seen physically and emotionally drained employees in many professions experiencing new levels of compassion fatigue. As a result of this pressure-filled environment, individuals seeking balance are making drastic career changes in what has been dubbed as the “great resignation.” People want more from their work and are searching for what’s important to their careers in new ways.
We have worked with several organizations that have great stories of resilience. Like many businesses during the pandemic, I saw our work shift significantly. Whether it was an employee stepping into a changing job or an entrepreneur or business owner trying to figure out their next step, everyone across the world knows the uncertainty and fear that marked April 2020. Here are a few of the lessons I learned:
- Never underestimate the positive and negative impact we have on each other. While it was not possible for every business, my team was fortunate enough to come together and collaboratively brainstorm how to maneuver given the changing circumstances. We rallied, had difficult conversations, embraced honesty and transparency, and supported each other both personally and professionally.
- Allow yourself to pivot and tap into your entrepreneurial side. It’s important to act when there is uncertainty with organizational change. At the beginning of the pandemic, I helped our team understand the environment and implications of what we were experiencing. I also had to listen to their wisdom and integrate it into my decision-making. As a team, we needed to ensure we were prepared for any scenario. We then needed to act, despite the temptation to feel stuck.
- We introduced work with clients in two critical areas that supported their needs. These were emergency management preparation and maintaining reliance in crisis. The team was able to pivot their work to assist several clients in these focus areas early in the pandemic and it proved to be a key strategic move.
- Be flexible with your expectations. Like any business, we had growth projections, products, and services we wanted to bring to market and goals for what we wanted to achieve. Continuous change required us to think differently about what we could and would accomplish. By grounding into our purpose and mission, we reestablished our expectations and knew this was a time to measure our success by a different yardstick. Instead of finances and growth, it became about people and service. Our team stepped in to lend additional hours of coaching and development services and provided our clients with the tools to mitigate the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Innovative Connections is just as you would expect from the name. Our mission is to “give voice and action to an emerging future,” and we know that is not possible without the ability to be with each other in ways that are not standard, customary, or “business as usual.”
While a traditional approach to managing stress, fatigue and burnout has its benefits, throughout my career I have discovered that these strategies are not as effective as they were in the past. Our workplace issues are more complex, and we find ourselves regularly researching ways to adapt, learn, and merge resilience practices that are relevant to the demands of today’s leaders and organizations. While these new practices are more difficult, they leave individuals with a newfound ability to navigate stressors, challenges, and work-life situations.
Using healthcare as another relevant example, our team has seen the tremendous amount of pressure these individuals have experienced increasingly since the pandemic. Feelings of burnout, including emotional exhaustion from unrealistic workloads, depersonalization of work, changes in empathy, and a diminished sense of personal accomplishment, have left care providers in an unfamiliar space. Many of our traditional resilience practices are no longer cutting it. They are either impossible or ineffective. Our team has created several strategies to support providers through this process, and while they seem basic, they have been a lifeline for individuals attempting to navigate these rough waters. Here are three strategies:
- We start by gauging the severity of the situation. Every individual and team have different levels of resiliency and burnout. We use an assessment of burnout/compassion fatigue as a method of understanding what resilience practices are most effective at a systems level for individuals and organizations.
- Additional support sessions emphasize strategic problem solving, providing a space for supportive conversations, and the encouragement needed to improve resilience. People learn best from each other, and we help create the right environment to have powerful conversations.
- Focusing on the individual is important, but burnout can also occur at an organizational level. It is paramount that organizations consider both individual and organizational tactics to improve resiliency.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Early in my career, I loved my work but increasingly experienced burnout from a heavy workload. My team leader at the time connected me with an executive coach who positively changed the trajectory of my career. My coach provided me with new ways to leverage my team more effectively and strategies to increase my resiliency while reducing my emotional exhaustion. This individual has been a saving grace and continues to shape my worldview and career today.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
For me, resilience is about an individual’s ability to bounce back from, recover and learn from stressful situations. When built from the inside, resilience supports the ability to be strong in the face of adversity and helps individuals become more resourceful, unattached and creative.
Our teams’ research shows that individuals with lower levels of burnout (or higher levels of resilience) have higher scores in emotional intelligence, specifically self-awareness and self-management. When we think about the characteristics of resilient people, they have skills such as:
- Understand and practice personal values. Resilient people know what is important to them, and they make life choices that support those values. The more we can integrate these values into our lives, the more resilient we become.
- Develop higher self-confidence. They are highly self-aware; they know their strengths and they trust themselves. This is a continuous process, and the individual never fully arrives.
- Establish healthy boundaries. Resilient people actively mitigate stress, engage in self-care, and build an intolerance to situations that bring about greater levels of exhaustion. Their self-awareness allows them to explore what aspects of their situation need change and they have boundaries that respect their limits.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Research would say there is a strong link between resilience, courage and hope. Courage does not have to be stereotypically heroic. It is seen in moments where people continually show up for their families, children, friends, employees, and most importantly, themselves despite all of life’s challenges.
Courage is required to activate strategies that support resilience. Research says that the most resilient individuals display courage by being honest with themselves, speaking their truth, openly sharing their struggles and emotions, seeking support from others, displaying confidence and self-worth.
While my advice five years ago to build resilience still stands (get plenty of sleep, exercise, nutrition, seek support systems, step outside your comfort zone, don’t ignore your emotions),, we will need to dig deeper into ourselves to build fortitude and grit to withstand current and future struggles. Resilience allows us to define a new rhythm for our lives and courage pushes us into action.
Courage is also often considered the opposite of fear. Stepping into what scares us most requires a foundation of resilience. There is a philosophy called the Circle of Courage and it aligns elements of both resilience and courage (and not so ironically, emotional intelligence). Its principles state that we must elevate:
- Belonging. A sense of belonging, which requires trust and support. We cannot underestimate the crucial human need for caring relationships and a sense of community. A depth of mastery, which entails knowing the skills, being cooperative and engaging in problem-solving to address the challenge. We are often told to “toughen up, “just deal with it”, or “just stay positive”, and we are rarely taught how to do these things.
- Independence. This is about having accountability for our successes and failures, while also setting goals, and displaying self-discipline.
- Generosity. This is likely one area of the resilience that has sustained our most challenged professions right now. Generosity is about empathy, support, caring, loyalty, and altruism.
There are certain things we know to be true about resilient people and those are consistently proven in our experiences with those who exhibit this trait. Resilient people are self-aware, calm under pressure, empathetic, optimistic, hopeful and courageous.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Right now, I would have to say, healthcare workers. We have worked with many physicians, nursing teams and other providers throughout the pandemic. I have witnessed these individuals at their lowest, but somehow, they continue to find energy, purpose and resilience to stay in the game.
Their ability to adapt and maintain empathy is admirable. I have seen healthcare workers that have navigated uncertainty, emotional exhaustion, and politics. If there is a set of resilience traits that have sustained this group, it’s a deep sense of calling, purpose and professional morality.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
Starting my business in 2008 — at the start of the great recession — was one. Sustaining and growing our company through the pandemic was another.
There is a quote I use frequently. “People who say it cannot be done should interrupt those who are doing it.” — Anonymous
I recently spoke at a conference for entrepreneurs. There are some common phrases that were thrown at me when I decided to start my own company, and these resonate with most business leaders:
- “You can’t do it”,
- “It’s not worth it”,
- “You’re never going to make it”
- “What are you thinking?”
- “Just get a real job like the rest of us”
- “Why would you leave a great job at (X company) to do that?”
Like myself, these business leaders, product developers and service entrepreneurs have faced immeasurable challenges, so I offer this advice:
- Hold your dream close until it’s developed and more solid. It can be tempting to want to share your ideas right away but oversharing your dream business plan before you are ready can be demoralizing when you don’t get the positive reassurance you were anticipating. While you will need people who can help you along the way, be cautious of who you turn to until you are further out of the gate.
- Be strategic and consider all the possibilities. There are a lot of things that can go right when you pursue a new business, but there are also many things that can go wrong. Similarly, there are a lot of great ideas and just as many bad ones. Do your homework plan for various scenarios, be prepared to shift if needed.
- Take action. Nothing happens unless you do something. Many entrepreneurs get stuck with the idea and are never able to successfully execute on the plan.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
There are several that have a common theme for me. I think we can all relate to hearing “hang in there”, “don’t be a quitter”, or “nothing good comes easy”. These phrases have value, but I have learned through experience that it is okay to say, “I tried my hardest”, or “this is taking too great of a toll on me.”
When I was completing my dissertation, I had a committee member who was brutal. Everything I did was challenged and questioned. I have had several experiences like this where leaders and individuals left me feeling exhausted and discouraged. I had a choice to stay in the game or walk off the field. In this situation, I decided to stay in the game. I found a way to reframe, engage in the difficult relationship and bring forth a different wisdom than I anticipated. This was a setback with a win.
My second story was an experience with a CEO who was equally hard to please. I started to question my own worth and, in this situation, I decided to forfeit the game. The toll this experience took on me was not worth any lesson I might have gained from staying engaged. This was also a setback with a win.
Just remind yourself that before you quit, be sure to measure what, if anything can be gained from overcoming the situation. There are benefits to “sticking it out”, but there are also significant penalties that can surface from “staying the course”. Assess carefully.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
I would like to share how resilience is cultivated by the people who love us.
There is a wonderful video clip of Mr. Rogers that comes to mind. He was a man who endured great adversity in various ways throughout his life, yet he stayed true to his purpose — building confidence, worth and joy in children. We often share his 1997 Emmy acceptance speech where he said, “so many people have helped me to come to this night. . . all of us have special (people) who have loved us into being. “Would you just take 10 seconds right now (and consider those who) have helped you become who you are, those who have cared about and wanted what was best for you in life.”
In my life, the people who helped me build resiliency are the very people who came to mind in those 10 seconds. I immediately thought of the people who safely allowed me to struggle and suffer through something so I would learn. These were the same people who stood by my side in difficult times. I believe that resilience comes from life events where we are stressed, defeated, and beaten down, but it also comes from times where we can share a cup of coffee and learn by reflecting on challenges that helped us grow.
I think that some of our most profound moments of resiliency are built in small fractions of experiences, hopefully, surrounded by those who care about us the most.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
There are several tactics and techniques that link to increased resiliency. Some common strategies include building your social support systems, maintaining your health with proper nutrition, sleep, and challenging yourself are all effective techniques. Considering the pandemic, what I have seen is that the challenges and stressors experienced by many of my clients exceed the tools and tactics that have been taught in the past.
All our research points to the need for people to spend time in self-reflection and increase their self-awareness of what motivates them, what depletes them, why they say “yes” when they want to say “no”, and other critical questions that show us what we need to do to increase our resilience.
Here are my 5 tips:
- Be adaptable. I coached a brilliant CEO of a medical technology firm. His greatest skill was his ability to adjust quickly and seamlessly to changing conditions. He had many product “failures” but never viewed it through that lens. He masterfully worked with his team, pulled apart what worked and didn’t and then systematically brought everyone together and moved them onto the next “failure” which, of course, became a success.
- Be unattached to a specific outcome. Our biggest challenge with emotions in business and life is getting attached to an outcome. The more we identify with a single possibility, the more likely we are to feel angry, fearful, or disappointed when it doesn’t happen exactly as planned. When we are open to a variety of scenarios, we can embrace the small steps towards progress. Resilient people have a different mindset in this area. I am currently working with an academic leader at a large University who is applying this skill to her own work. Despite setbacks, she uses some of these skills to pivot and read the situation in a way that keeps everyone moving forward. She keeps the goal in mind but allows herself to shift her mindset to bring people close in a positive way.
- Be hopeful. Hope has several definitions, but I like to define hope as a belief or expectation that something will happen or work out despite everything in your situation telling you it will not. Resilient people are also hopeful. We have a client in education who continues to see the glass full (not even half full but filled to the rim). This client sees the opportunity in her challenges and puts new plans in place to move educational opportunities in a new and successful direction.
- Maintain composure. While stress always brings emotion, resilient people learn how to navigate tension and difficult situations with a sense of calm. They understand the severity of the issue, yet act like a duck on water, paddling hard under the surface but maintaining an image of peace.
- Take care of yourself. When I think of the most resilient people in my work and life, they don’t sacrifice their wellbeing for others, they prioritize themselves as well. We can’t (and shouldn’t) always put ourselves first, but we also can’t accommodate so deeply that we lose our own health and wellbeing.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
You could argue that parts of this discussion could lead people to believe they have to always be positive, optimistic, “can do” and happy. Much of my current work is in this space, and as a researcher of emotions, I wish people could more effectively integrate, listen to, and understand their “negative” emotions. For example:
- What can we learn from fear and anger?
- How do we listen and respond more effectively to guilt and shame?
- If we could admit contempt and envy, what would we discover about ourselves?
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Considering this topic, I would welcome a conversation with Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, who is a prominent researcher, teacher, and leader in the areas of burnout and resiliency.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!