Check yourself: resilience can have its dark side when one person is very resilient, but those around them are not. Recognize and accept that different people will have different levels of resilience. This applies for leadership positions as well — demanding more of a leader is reasonable, because their resilience level is greater. Acknowledging other individuals’ differences is the key to shaping a resilient team.
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 Magdalena Nowicka Mook, CEO of the International Coaching Federation.
Magdalena Nowicka Mook is the CEO of the International Coaching Federation (ICF). Previously, she held positions with the Council of State Governments and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. She is a trained coach and a frequent speaker on subjects of coaching and leadership and received a master’s degree in economics and international trade from the Warsaw School of Economics, Poland. She also graduated from the Copenhagen Business School’s Advanced Program in International Management and Consulting.
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?
I was born and raised in Poland and eventually moved to the U.S. in 1995. I experienced three very different careers early in my life, beginning with economic research service for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, followed by a position with the Council of State Governments. Seventeen years ago, I joined the International Coaching Federation, where I have advanced to CEO and led several years of growth for this international organization.
I also lived through the Martial Law in my homeland, an experience that absolutely will teach you to be more resilient. Between that personal experience and my professional journey, I went through many twists and turns during my career, but looking back, I wouldn’t do it any other way.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Without question, the greatest lesson I’ve learned across the wide-ranging industries and roles has been the importance of remaining open to change. Oftentimes, we make plans for ourselves and our organizations. While this is necessary, it is important not to miss an opportunity when it presents itself, even if that was not originally in your plans. I advise taking calculated risks, even if it looks scary, because it may open a door to an opportunity you never originally thought was possible.
I never thought I would end up leading the International Coaching Federation, and yet it has been one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve ever experienced.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Where to start? Coaching empowers. Coaching is an important and powerful interaction between people. At the heart of everything ICF does and stands for is this focused relationship, for growth, insight, development, and change. Our organization itself went through a considerable change recently as we undertook a comprehensive transformation. I am incredibly proud of the team we have at ICF, and it’s my personal feeling that we could not have successfully reoriented without their courage, openness and resilience. But one of the most notable traits of our organization is our capacity to learn as we grow and grow as we learn. The team has been resourceful, collaborative and brilliant in defining each step along the way while simultaneously navigating the pandemic, no less! Now that’s resilience!
I believe that our own adoption of coaching — the profession our organization represents — as a foundation for all we do has been instrumental in creating an environment where this is possible, while never compromising the highest standards and quality.
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?
There are many people who go out of their way to help us, and we often don’t fully realize their impact until later in life. Parents and teachers have a role in nudging us into something challenging and less familiar. Professionally, there was one person who I met early in my career who played a huge role in shaping me as a leader, when I was still very young and observing the leaders above me within my organization. When I asked if he was concerned that he would be replaced, he said, “No, I believe it’s my job to develop my successor!”
This intrigued me. I asked if he could explain more, and his response has impacted me to this day. He said, “Should I leave this role for any reason, I want to leave the organization in good shape and in good hands. And I want to do it so I feel free to leave as well.”
His words stayed with me in my roles developing future leaders and I came to discover that cultivating successors is part of the leadership journey.
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?
To me, resilience is the ability to stay calm during moments of unusual stress and be able to make decisions that are appropriate at that moment with the information available at that time. Not panicking under pressure, but seeing things through to the end, despite obstacles faced along the way, are key attributes of a resilient person. Being confident that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that you will find it or create it ensures that there is a resolution to any difficulty you may face. That innate character shows resilience. While over-optimism can be a fatal flaw, a resilient individual will be able to stay calm and focused and effectively find the best path forward.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Courage and resilience are related in a circular way. One must have courage to take unusual steps in order to build resilience. Resilience, in turn, helps you to make informed decisions that involve risk. We just sustained years of a global pandemic and have come out on the other side. There are ways in which our lives have changed dramatically, but along with this have come positive outcomes — and this is what ultimately builds resilience. We experienced it, lived through it, and were a part of it. We now have the ability to evaluate what matters most and be better prepared for future circumstances that might normally throw us off balance.
Eventually, the rain will stop and we, as a people, will keep moving forward. Ultimately, courage and resilience support one another and the cycle of the two allow for our continued evolution.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
With the winter Olympics recently coming to an end, it comes to mind that Olympians may easily be viewed as the most resilient people on the planet. Across the board, Olympians train at unimaginable levels and push themselves past what feels humanly possible. Whether they win or not, they continue to train and come back the next time ready to push even harder. They come back stronger, better prepared, and more focused. It takes a special person to adapt and deal with phenomenal successes and hurtful failures but having this ability to keep trying for the thrill of Olympic success proves their resiliency.
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?
Yes, every day. You should never take the opinion of another person as the 100 percent truth. Most of us react to opportunities or difficulties based on our personal experiences, which adds a level of bias to any interaction we have.
In 1996, I was told as an immigrant that I would never have a successful career in the United States. Prior to that, I earned my master’s degree in International Trade at the Warsaw School of Economics. I was told there were so many candidates for that program that I shouldn’t even bother pursuing it. But challenge drives me. While you shouldn’t be reckless, it is crucial to be motivated. That determination or drive will compel you to evaluate the data, as well as the emotions that surround the data, when making decisions for yourself.
Had I listened to the noise around me, I might never have made it to where I am today, leading a global nonprofit in one of the fastest growing industries in the world.
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?
When I was working for the U.S. Federal Government, I made the decision to leave due to family circumstances and moved to a different location. But, after leaving I was unable to find a job. As a professional woman who had worked my entire life, I was very desperate and disappointed with the world since life was not going how I had expected it would. It took a year and a half for me to get back on my feet.
From the beginning, I told myself that I would not take a job that didn’t interest me. I remember back to those months of trying to secure a position, while navigating what would be the best fit for me, and I realize that I had resiliency even then. Resilient people are self-aware, and that self-awareness allows them to make decisions that have merit long-term.
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?
Back when I was living in Poland, it was uncommon for people to move around a lot. My mom and dad were scientists and entrepreneurs, and we went where the greatest new opportunity was. Over time, we moved to Warsaw, I made new friends, and found new ways to adjust to my environment. In December 1981, Martial Law was introduced in Poland, and I woke up one morning with tanks and military personnel outside of my house. Though I was young, I was clearly able to see that something was dangerously wrong.
Over time, having great limitations on what you could or could not do, say or not say, built character but also my resilience. When the pandemic started, I thought, ‘How are we going to get through this?’ A lot of people around me were on the verge of panic. My friend at Harvard University studies the issue of resilience, and she told me to think about experiences from before that put you through a trauma and how you eventually got out of it.
Though the pandemic has been extremely difficult and stressful, my past experiences with Martial Law in Poland equipped me to handle a challenging and scary time, because I was able to look back at my past successes in getting through that troubling experience.
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.
- Take inventory: look to past experiences from your life that help build certain levels of resilience and support you looking at events through a different lens.
- Work on your own self-awareness: know who you are, what you stand for, what your values are, and what you are driven by.
- Take risks, make changes: don’t be reckless, but calculate your moves; stretch yourself a bit beyond your normal limits. This is true in every sphere. Olympians stretch themselves and they end up being among the best in the world at their sport.
- Check yourself: resilience can have its dark side when one person is very resilient, but those around them are not. Recognize and accept that different people will have different levels of resilience. This applies for leadership positions as well — demanding more of a leader is reasonable, because their resilience level is greater. Acknowledging other individuals’ differences is the key to shaping a resilient team.
- Separate resilience from hardship: resilience does not have to come from trauma. Rather, it can come from positive experiences. When I set a goal and achieve it, it feels phenomenal. It is an important and positive trait, so it is good to not only associate it with overcoming an obstacle.
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. 🙂
Consider working on opening your mind to other perspectives, overcoming fears, and closing gaps in your professional development. If it aligns, work with a professional coach to reach your greatest potential — this is being done across industries, from government, for-profit companies, large systems, and more.
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 🙂
I would like to share a meal with the Prime Minister of New Zealand. She is a very smart, courageous, and resilient woman who is breaking past assumptions and traditions, while achieving great results. She is truly, by her example, changing the views of what a female leader can and should do. She is systemically changing the way people look at women leaders and her response to the pandemic and economic policies has been second-to-none. I would be fascinated to learn more about her thought processes, what gives her motivation, and her muscle of resilience.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Further, readers are welcomed to view some of my past bylines in Forbes.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!