Recently, I attended a talk by His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Llama at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum in Minneapolis. During the Q&A session at the end of his talk, I found myself dumbfounded by how the same question was being asked repeatedly with only slight differences in phrasing or context – how can we not despair in the face of global conflict, materialism, corrupt politics, etc. How can we not despair? The Dalai Llama laughed and said, “We have no choice!” Despair leads to inaction and ill health; we must choose hope, health, and positive action.
In my work as a leadership coach, clients are often sent to me for “derailment coaching.” Derailment coaching means that they were in danger of derailing their careers. As they came up against mistakes, failures, stresses, or dreams unfulfilled, their responses are ‘maladaptive’ rather than resilient and forward moving. Not only were they not bouncing back, they were not bouncing at all. They were deflated, without hope, and suffering a loss of self in the face of setbacks.
Resilience is typically defined as the ability to spring back into shape, or recover from difficulties. The Dalai Llama was speaking at that level of personal resilience in his Q&A session, reinforcing how important it is to choose your thoughts in ways that keep you hopeful and therefore healthy. When you are in a position of power or leadership, however, the stakes are even higher. Emotions, mood, and affect are contagious, and a deflated leader can create ripples of despair in the larger system.
I was reminded of the language of ‘bouncing forward’ at a recent event led by Elle Allison-Napolitano (Allison-Napolitano, 2014). We know that leadership and coaching are both fundamentally about creating forward movement, and the ability to bounce forward is a critical differentiator of effective leadership. Our work with leaders, then, is not about bouncing back, but rather it is about how to take every “bounce” as an opportunity to step into new perspectives, create unexpected outcomes, and move courageously into often uncharted territory.
Like personal resilience, leadership resilience includes attending to one’s physical, emotional, and relational health. Leadership resilience, however also incorporates sustaining positivity, seeing opportunity in challenge, and being able to be present to the mystery and majesty of life in every circumstance.