On The Rebound: What Makes Great Women Leaders Resilient and Why?

How resilient you are as a woman leader may depend on your recovery time. Bounce back. Get up. Put on your big girl pants.We sometimes repeat trite clichés when we (or one of our friends, colleagues or family members) have a setback.But what does it mean to be truly resilient? And how can we fill our toolbox with a set of skills and strategies that will help us recover?There is a great deal of research around the nature of resilience. In Harvard Business Review, authors Shaun Achor and Michelle Gielan write about the importance of recovery time after a disappointment or negative event. What is critical, they assert, is not how much you can take, or the measure of your endurance, but how well you can recharge and move ahead. And they report that recovery is crucial for resilience.Giving yourself time for recovery is important to truly being able to “bounce back” with resilience.  “The key to resilience is trying really hard, then stopping, recovering, and then trying again,” Achor and Gielan write. “This conclusion is based on biology. Homeostasis is a fundamental biological concept describing the ability of the brain to continuously restore and sustain well-being.”They add: “Research has found that there is a direct correlation between lack of recovery and increased incidence of health and safety problems. And lack of recovery — whether by disrupting sleep with thoughts of work or having continuous cognitive arousal by watching our phones — is costing our companies $62 billion a year (that’s billion, not million) in lost productivity.”Recovery is not work stoppage. Many of us are checking emails and sending texts related to work up until the very moment we drop off to sleep.[bctt tweet=“Recovery is not work stoppage. We check emails and send texts until the moment we fall asleep.”]Achor and Giellan explain: “Most people assume that if you stop doing a task like answering emails or writing a paper, that your brain will naturally recover, such that when you start again later in the day or the next morning, you’ll have your energy back. But surely everyone reading this has had times where you lie in bed for hours, unable to fall asleep because your brain is thinking about work. If you lie in bed for eight hours, you may have rested, but you can still feel exhausted the next day. That’s because rest and recovery are not the same thing. Stopping does not equal recovering.”What does resilience mean to women leaders?  We think about people we know who have lost jobs, or been downsized and then come back stronger. We see athletes who have lost and then gone on to win big. It is not enough to just bear witness to the prevalence of resilience, but to try and understand what it can mean in the workforce as women leaders.“The trouble is that ‘resilience’ has been elusive in at least two ways,” writes Robert Aurbach, owner of Uncommon Approach, and former chief legal officer for the New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Administration, in WorkCompCentral.“First, it’s a characteristic that isn’t generally well described, except by its effects,” Aurbach writes. “We know what resilience does, but we have no description of how resilience works. Without a definition of what resilience is, the phenomenon is in a ‘black box’ that is not helpful for making use of the concept.”He adds, “Second, the advice given regarding resilience suffers from circularity, generality and difficulty in application. Common advice like, ‘If you want to be more resilient, be more optimistic’ sounds a little too much like “If you want to be wealthy, just get more money.’ It’s not very helpful.”What can be helpful is knowing that resilience, while not automatic, can be part of who we are with intention and practice. It’s a real skill, an attribute, and it can be enhanced. And if it makes any of us feel better, we can always hum along to Kelly Clarkson’s lyric, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” There’s a good reason the youtube version has more than 202 million views.[bctt tweet=“Resilience, while not automatic, can be part of who we are with intention and practice.”]