Three mental skills resilient managers have that others don’t

10 October 2019

Anthony Taylor, Consultant, ARK Consultancy

At some point, something is going to go south at work.

An important deadline will be missed, a team member will leave without warning, a major client will cancel a contract or in the worst-case scenario you will, like me, get a P45 you just didn’t see coming at ten to five on some idle Tuesday.

It’s at this point, when the ‘you-know-what’ has hit the fan, that resilient managers do three things differently from many others.

It’s what separates them from the rest and goes a long way to deciding who bounces forward and who sinks. Who gets ahead in their career and who doesn’t.

#1 They accept reality

The first thing they do it to accept the reality of the situation.

Sure, they may feel all the same emotions that others do such as fear, anger and denial but they move to acceptance much quicker. They spend less time wallowing in the negative emotions and begin their journey through the transitions curve.

They practice optimism with minimal distortion. They don’t allow themselves to create fanciful ideas of how they want it to be, only how it really is.

An example of this is James Stockdale – a US Navy fighter pilot, shot down over Vietnam. He spent eight years in captivity, four years of which were in solitary confinement. He was tortured 15 times and held in leg irons for two years.

Yet despite this he accepted his reality, all the while holding on to the belief he would one day be freed. He also maintained his optimism yet without distortion.

What his other fellow prisoners did was to put a date on when that would be, such as by Christmas, and then spring, and then summer. By setting a date they engaged in distorted optimism. This was not based on any evidence.

Every time one of their arbitrary and distortedly optimistic deadlines passed without their release they suffered a crushing emotional blow. This led to despair and meant they couldn’t execute the second trait of resilient people.

The result? Their resolve was broken and they withered and died. James Stockdale lived.

When we accept our reality, we can prepare ourselves to change it, one day at a time. It’s also important to maintain our optimism yet to ensure we don’t distort it.

#2 They accept responsibility

Resilient people accept responsibility in the face of an adversity.

They recognise they hold the ability to choose their response – their attitude in any given circumstances.

Resilient managers don’t look for reasons why it shouldn’t happen to them, rather they adopt a ‘Why not me?’ attitude.

Life is not fair, things, go wrong, the best laid plans etc. etc. By doing this they refuse to adopt a victim mentality. They don’t look to apportion blame or cry foul, they just get on with it because they mastered the first mental skill – accepting reality.

Consequently, they move through the transitions curve quicker and spend their time making things better.

They clearly identify where they are, adopt a realistic optimistic outlook and control their mindset which allows them to access their full cognitive abilities to demonstrate the third trait.

#3 The have psychological bricolage

The first two traits put managers in the ideal mental position to make full use of their “psychological bricolage”.

This is the mental processes through which an individual develops novel solutions to problems by making use of previously unrelated knowledge or ideas they already possess.

They adopt a solutions-focused approach. They improvise, they imagine possibilities because they are operating with their full cognitive abilities.

They can only do this because they have controlled their emotions and mindset. They pick themselves up and carry on, breaking things down into manageable chunks.

They celebrate small successes which re-builds their confidence and for the people they lead and manage. This boosts motivation and can provide relief from the stress of the thing that went wrong.

What was the biggest thing that’s gone wrong on you career and how many of the three mental skills above did you exhibit in turning things around?

Which of the three can you work on to put yourself in a stronger position next time you are faced with a major problem?


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