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Every leader wants resilience; here’s what it takes to achieve it

By: Dana Poul-Graf, Founder & Strategic Thought Partner, Key&Spark

As you go about your work in the world, do you listen closely to what’s top of mind for your customers? 

We at Key&Spark do. Lately, as we’ve been speaking with leaders and helping them with growth and development initiatives and strategic consulting around change communication, project management, and strategy, a few words and phrases have been resounding—executive presence, influence, and resilience.

Each is a topic worth exploring in depth. In this post, I’ll focus on resilience.


Resilience is a word for modern times

Although its first appearance in the English language dates back to 1626, resilience is a word for modern times. The Oxford English Dictionary defines resilience as the ability to recover quickly or easily from, or resist being affected by, illness, misfortune, and shock. 

No wonder leaders want resilience! 

We live in an era filled with misfortunes and shocks—the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the global financial crisis of 2008, the pandemic and resulting economic downturn, hurricanes, tsunamis, refugee crises, climate change, mass shootings, war… the list goes on.

Individuals and teams must develop the skill of resilience because there is no other choice. When external impulses deliver shock and misfortune, we must adapt or fall off the treadmill. 


Resilience in action: A client story

One of my clients, an open-minded, reflective leader, was concerned about managing growth this year, knowing that what got her team through 2022 won’t work in 2023. They were already at capacity limits and performing well.

But how to sustain it? How to continue to grow? How to keep external impulses and change from throwing them off? Or how to bounce back quickly if they do wobble?

Whether it’s around resilience, strategic consulting for change communication, or something else, our work for leaders is also about facilitating the knowledge in the room. 

Our first step was to speak with our client to understand her pain and issues. 

Next, we reviewed scientific studies and in-depth consulting reports to select the best tools and frameworks for the situation. 

After that, we proposed a custom solution to help her and her team continue to perform at a high level and sustain growth. 

In my mind at the time, I knew the solution had to address three things: 1) individual resilience, 2) team resilience (you must have both), and 3) the topic that underpins resilience and must be tackled first—psychological safety.


Photo by Zach Reiner on Unsplash


Psychological safety: The underpinning of resilience

Amy Edmondson, professor of leadership and management at Harvard Business School, defines psychological safety this way:

Psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes and that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.

If individuals on your team do not feel safe, they cannot develop resilience. And if even one team member cannot develop resilience, the whole team will suffer, which is why I say you must have individual AND team resilience.

For the resilience work for our client, we began with a survey, following the Project Aristotle model originally used by Google and the researcher Julia Rozovsky. 

Rozovsky and her team at Google put a lot of effort into discovering what makes for the most effective teams. Surprisingly, after two years of work studying 180 teams at Google and conducting more than 200 interviews, they were no closer to an answer than when they started. But along the way, they kept bumping into a concept called group norms—unwritten rules or expectations that govern behavior within a team. 

Through the lens of psychological safety, group norms refer to the shared understanding and belief within a group that it’s safe to take interpersonal risks and speak up about concerns or ideas, whether expressing dissenting opinions, asking questions, or challenging the status quo.

In the end, Rozovsky and her team concluded that the key to high-performing teams is psychological safety. As she told Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, in an interview for the New York Times Magazine, “Don’t underestimate the power of giving people a common platform and operating language.”

There is power in psychological safety. Accenture reported that companies that engineer high psychological safety experience many benefits:

  • 76% more engagement
  • 74% less stress
  • 57% more team collaboration
  • 50% more productivity
  • 29% more life satisfaction
  • 27% reduction in turnover
  • 26% greater skills preparedness 


It’s worth giving your teams that common platform and operating language!

That’s what our survey and the following self-assessments, reflections, and discussions did for our client. We first established a baseline of psychological safety and then began the resilience work, recognizing that resilience starts with each individual. 

We helped our client become adaptive and resilient and worked with each member of her team, creating practices and rituals that build resilience. Resilient individuals mean resilient teams, and resilient teams lead to organizational resilience

Participant feedback for the program was positive, with team members calling it inspirational, relevant, and applicable.

We also set sustainability measures because we don’t leave clients alone after a program. We hold one-on-one coaching calls to help them cascade the program to other teams and online sessions to boost their progress.

With these elements in place, our client will find it much easier to bounce back from adversity.


How to create the resilience you need to weather the weather

Follow the process if you want resilience for your teams and organization. 

First, become a resilient, sustainable leader yourself so you can proactively challenge and support all areas of your team members’ lives. Key&Spark can help you with that.

Next, step down to your team members’ level to develop practices and rituals that foster individual resilience. 

Creating resilient individuals will fill your teams with resilient people, leading to team resilience. And building resilient teams throughout your company will lead to organizational resilience, which does good, happy things for your bottom line.


Clues to your capacity for resilience

I’ll discuss other hot-button topics challenging teams and leaders in upcoming posts.

Until then, I invite you to open your mind and be curious about team group norms at your company.

For instance, do certain groups expect punctuality while others are lax about late arrivals? What about conversation time during meetings? Do all team members get the same floor time, or do specific individuals dominate? Also, consider the dress code, the use of offensive language, and communication styles. 

Each of those norms can give you insights into the psychological safety of team members, indicating whether those individuals and teams are ready to develop the much-needed, critical skill of resilience for themselves and your organization.