By Judith Lindenberger and Linda Sepe
Published in ASTD Links March 2006
Corporate training departments teach job skills to help employees become more effective and successful. An essential skill for success, however, which is seldom found in corporate training programs, is the ability to be resilient.
Resiliency is the ability to recover quickly from change or misfortune. When something goes wrong at work, everyone watches the leader to see how he or she is going to respond. The business world requires its leaders to be resilient but it does not teach them how to do so. Instead, learning resiliency becomes a sink or swim experience – and the majority sink at first and for too long.
Who are the people and organizations that have mastered resiliency? Here are three examples.
Lance Armstrong (1971 – ), the world's greatest cyclist, winner of seven straight Tour de France races (1999-2005) and a cancer survivor, is the quintessential modern example of resiliency. Armstrong was raised by his mother, Linda Mooneyham, whose spirit and independence has often been cited by Armstrong as his greatest influence. Said Armstrong, “ Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.”
A more historical example of resiliency is Henry Ford (1863 – 1947), founder of the Henry Ford Motor Company. Because the automobile industry was not producing cars at a fast enough pace, Ford applied assembly line manufacturing to mass production. “There is a subtle danger in a man thinking that he is ‘fixed’ for life,” Ford once noted. “It indicated that the next jolt of the wheel of progress is going to fling him off.”
Starbucks has created a resilient company. Employees are paid more than the minimum wage and receive benefits even if they work part-time. They are also given the power to make their own decisions. Starbucks' debit card, which allows regular customers to obtain their daily caffeine fixes without fumbling for cash, was an innovation for the quick-serve restaurant industry.
So how do organizations and individuals become resilient? You don’t master resiliency from taking a training class, reading a book, or attending a retreat. The ability to be resilient requires a more individualized approach. In our experience, mentors and their protégés, and coaches and their clients, are the most effective purveyors of breaking down the mystery of resiliency.
So … do you choose coaching or mentoring to build a resilient business? The weight of this decision is often felt most strongly by human resources professionals who must determine, often in people they don’t know, which is the most effective strategy for specific and desired change.
Coaches work with people whose primary focus is change while mentors work with people whose primary focus is career. A coach is usually external to the organization while a mentor is usually internal to the organization. A coach is selected based on fit while a mentor is selected based on possession of the skills and knowledge needed by the protégé. A coach asks powerful, thought-provoking questions that tap the inherent wisdom and creativity of the client while a mentor advises and instructs. And finally, who pays? Coaching is either a company or personal expense while mentoring is a company expense.
Coaching creates resilient leaders. It keeps small companies nimble. It builds a collaborative culture. It puts focus on people. It links individual goals with organizational goals. It is an investment to be used with people who are valued and not as a punishment.
Acquiring the right executive coach is a thoughtful process. It requires an active positive chemistry between coach and client. That means that human resource specialists must build relationships with several coaches who can be interviewed by the potential internal client. Assigned coaches are often less successful than chosen ones.
Constanza is a beautiful woman in her thirties who grew up in a highly educated and success-oriented family in Argentina. She has many siblings in the United States. Her background includes a degree in business from an Ivy League school and three significant corporate positions. Constanza values excellence, high performance, speed and loyalty. Her management style is authoritative and her staff members complain that she is bossy. In reality, she is a very nurturing and kind person who seeks personal relationships at work.
Constanza chose a coach to help improve her communication skills with her staff and peers, and to expand and soften her leadership style. While meeting regularly with her coach, Constanza set goals with her boss, sent out a survey to her staff to learn what they thought of her management style, and learned to be more strategic. She realized that her current style produced excellent results but made her employees feel incompetent. She began planning meetings around asking questions rather than around giving answers. And, with the help of her coach, she made subtle changes in choice of words, which increased her ability to delegate successfully. Her employees responded by feeling trusted and eager to perform well.
Now, the output of Constanza’s division remains excellent as assessed by internal and external customers, her staff report that they feel competent and valued within their unit, and Constanza is considering applying for a higher-level job. The experience of coaching has strengthened Constanza’s resiliency and leadership, and thus benefited her company.
In order for Constanza to truly absorb what she has learned, the coach has recommended that Constanza become a mentor within her organization. Just as educators recognize that learning is confirmed when a student is able to teach newly learned skills to others, those who have been coached can fully embed and develop newly learned skills by mentoring.
When asked what helped them achieve success, most CEOs point to a person or persons who have helped them along the way. Although you can make it without a mentor, it can take a lot more time. Mentoring has been reported to help new employees acclimate more quickly to the organization, reduce turnover, prepare mid-level managers and executives to move successfully into senior-level positions, help minority workers advance, and enhance women’s development to the senior level.
A year after Constanza’s coaching began, she was approached by Pravin, a new employee, and the only Asian person in Management, to help him acclimate to the organization’s culture. Constanza, as a Latino woman in Senior Management, now understood how miscommunication, despite good intentions, could result in poor leadership, and guided Pravin through her own mistakes and what she had learned from them. They are still meeting regularly today.
Powerful things happen when a respected, experienced person shows interest in and goes out of his or her way to help another person develop, especially when the other person is open to being influenced. Mentors can inspire you to meet challenges and achieve success. They enable you to see a wider realm of opportunities, provide valuable advice to help you advance in your career, and thereby, strengthen the fabric of resilience in individuals and organizations.
Mentors get as much satisfaction from mentoring relationships, if not more, than protégés. Mentors report that they gain a different perspective of the organization, feel good about giving back to the organization, and enjoy helping someone else manage his or her career. Mentoring is all about learning. The lovely thing is that both people end up learning.
By combining mentoring and coaching within an organization, employees can improve performance, refine behaviors that create good performance, and be ready for new career and organizational challenges. As author Gary Hamel, writes, "The world is becoming turbulent faster than organizations are becoming resilient." Coaching and mentoring are two strategies that help individuals and organizations develop resiliency.
Copyright © 2013 by The Lindenberger Group, LLC. All rights reserved.