Keys to Strengthening Hardiness and ResilienceIn Japan the Daruma Doll is a good luck charm with a rounded bottom. When knocked down, it bounces back upright. This ability to bounce back is a symbol of perseverance and good luck. The doll is modelled after Bodhidharma, a Buddhist monk who founded Zen about 15 centuries ago. Legend has it he mediated for nine years without moving until his legs and arms atrophied and fell off. Many Buddhist temples sell dolls without eyes for goal setting. The purchaser paints one eye in when he or she has set a goal. Once the goals is attained the other eye is painted in.

Today I am delivering the opening keynote at a conference in Edmonton on building resilient communities. Resilience and bouncing back is vital right now in a very tough Alberta economy knocked down by low oil prices and battered by the horrific fire last spring in Fort McMurray that destroyed over 2,400 buildings and 600 work camp units.

This keynote is a customized version of Leading @ the Speed of Change built around our Lead, Follow, or Wallow framework with a focus on building hardiness and resilience in ourselves and others. While strengthening resilience or bounce-back has been a key theme in much of my work, preparation for this keynote sent me back into my research files.

How we use the F-Word is key to resilience. Is failure:

  • Temporary or permanent?
  • An experience or who we are?
  • Something to be learned from or crushed by?
  • Traumatizing or growth inducing?

The International Committee for the Study of Victimization looked at the hardiness of large groups of people who had all suffered serious adversity like cancer patients, prisoners of war, accident victims, etc. They found the survivors fell into three groups. Those who:

  1. Used the experience as a defining event that made them stronger.
  2. Got their life back to “normal”.
  3. Were permanently dispirited by the event.

In her Harvard Business Review article, “How Resilience Works,” Diane Coutu writes, “We all know people who, under duress, throw up their hands and cry, ‘How can this be happening to me?’ Such people see themselves as victims, and living through hardship carries no lessons for them. But resilient people devise constructs about their suffering to create some sort of meaning for themselves and others… an increasing body of empirical evidence shows that resilience — whether in children, survivors of concentration camps, or businesses back from the brink — can be learned.”

A Japanese Proverb teaches, “Fall seven times, stand up eight.” As part of his highly inspiring leadership legacy Nelson Mandela said, “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell and got back up.”