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How to Adapt To Challenges and Roadblocks, And Lead Others To Bounce Back Smarter, Too

How to Adapt To Challenges and Roadblocks, And Lead Others To Bounce Back Smarter, Too
Resilience is essentially a set of skills - as opposed to a disposition or personality type - that make it possible for people not only to get through hard times but to thrive during and after them.

-Mandy Oaklander, Time Magazine

Had a setback on a new venture? Big transformation program hit a major bump in the road? Employee morale taken a hit during a recent reorganization or merger? Leaders and companies today need to do more than bounce back and survive the unexpected. They need to thrive and bounce back better, stronger, smarter.

Usually, when individuals fall, we pick ourselves back up and keep moving - maybe even twice. By the third or fourth misstep, however, we can begin to wonder: should we just give up? Companies don’t necessarily have any better strategy to deal with setbacks and leaders can become exasperated with employees when the inevitable failure occurs. Despite DAILY evidence to the contrary, we often still assume a relatively smooth path from here to there. Optimism isn’t a bad thing in business - but naïveté is. Then, when we hit bumps along our personal or corporate transformation journey, we often end up reacting with impatience, ignoring or intensifying. Here’s why those reactions are incorrect:


Getting impatient with yourself or your employees won’t help you get un-stuck and it almost certainly will hurt by prompting people to dig in even further. Newsflash: we are humans away from and -- gasp! -- AT work, and our tolerance for getting unreasonably pushed when we are recovering from a failure doesn’t mysteriously increase between 8:30am and 5:30pm.

[Related: Overcoming Overwhelm in Your Life and in Business]


I once led the reorganization of a function and morale was down. My client, the executive who ran the business division, complained that people should get moving and just be glad to have a job. Thankfully I had the opportunity to coach him on how to break through the slump by addressing it head on, but his instinctive desire to ignore the problem isn’t uncommon (just ineffective).


Have you heard of the ‘fight or flight (or freeze)’ human response to threats? I for one am a recovering fighter, so I can understand the momentary - albeit misguided - appeal of pushing harder and faster when people are not moving forward during a strategically important change effort. Redoubling efforts to push forward can backfire with employees struggling with a setback.

Getting stuck along the transformation journey is inevitable, not least because lasting change takes time. In the 21st century, leaders are also dealing with a different change beast: frequent, unrelenting, and unpredictable changes characterize today’s VUCA world. When so much is coming at you or your team that is new, missteps are inevitable; and thankfully, temporary. Indeed, you should expect... the unexpected.

Whether you’re facing a corporate change program, personal transformation, or professional journey into the unknown, what is clear is that more than ever, resilience is an essential skill to thrive these days. To lead from the inside-out:

Be the change you wish to see in the world.

Gandhi said it best. To help others develop resilience, recognize that it involves more than glossing over a failure and first cultivate resilience in yourself. There is no magic bullet to cultivating resilience, just a willingness to practice + a real desire to buck shame. Practice this: Accept, Anchor, Reflect and Focus Forward®.

[Related: High Wire Leadership: What I Learned Leading Skeptics]

In order to be able to move forward, accept what’s happened without judgment and as fact. Though it might be difficult to do at first, with practice you can in fact train your brain to regulate your emotions so you don’t automatically jump to fear or anger - starting with mindfulness practice. Studies have shown compelling positive impact of mindfulness on the ability of people to physically bounce back from major stressors. That’s one reason why you’ll see mindfulness as one of the 9 practices of 21st Century Change Masters™ - a Desai Transformation model for individual transformation.

When you can distinguish your feelings about what happened from the fact that it has happened, you can focus on the problem at hand. With distance from the emotion of the setback, continue cultivating resilience by anchoring in your (or the organization’s) values. Who do you want to BE in this situation? (Notice I’m not asking what you want to do...we’ll get to that in a moment.) In every failure there is a lesson, so you also need to reflect on what you’ve learned from the setback that can help you move forward. Maybe it’s that accountability is not strong on a team or that some change sponsors aren’t clear about their roles. Recent studies have shown that personal reflection on failures and setbacks can actually lead to growth. Now it’s time to take action: so focus forward by stating your goal for the overall situation. What is the first step you can take towards that goal? Who do you need to collaborate with to take that action?

Take it to the team.

Setbacks can rattle not just your feelings of confidence or stability (or both), but your teams’ as well. Resilience can help teams rebuild confidence in their ability to succeed, and teams can improve individual team members’ resilience.

“Very few highly resilient individuals are strong in and by themselves. You need support,” - Dr. Steven Southwick of Yale School of Medicine (TIME Magazine - subscription required)

That is pretty powerful when you consider that all change happens in teams. So take your team through the same model - Accept, Anchor, Reflect and Focus Forward® - and allow them the opportunity to use each other for support. Organizational psychologists have known for some time that group settings are a powerful mechanism for shifting mindsets. For teams, the Anchoring phase in my model involves reminding each other of strengths, past wins and the capability to endure.

Consolidate resiliency.

As teams and individuals strengthen their skills in bouncing back smarter, better and faster, they can strengthen resilience even further with group-based learning. Leverage change champions networks, quarterly extended leadership team meetings and other learning opportunities to deepen managers’ resiliency skills by taking them through the Accept, Anchor, Reflect and Focus Forward® model. They can share experiences, exchange techniques and accelerate the entire organization’s ability to recover from setbacks and failures and achieve the business’ change goals.

The approaches here leverage compelling findings from decades of studying what makes some people more resilient than others (read about resilience research in this TIME Magazine article; subscription required). Even though change can lead to challenges, you can strengthen your and your team’s resilience skills in order to bounce back stronger, better and faster.

[Related: Why Learning to Fail is an Important Step in Succeeding]

(For recommended reading on understanding and building organizational resilience, see Judith Rodin’s list here)

This article previously appeared on Desai Transformation.


Supriya Desai is a strategic change and transformation leader and professionally certified leadership coach who has led and guided dozens of strategic initiatives from Six Sigma deployments to global reorganizations, and post-merger integrations to global operating model transformations. She is Founder & Managing Principal of ASC* Advisory (, an executive advisory and coaching firm specializing in corporate strategy execution, change and transformation advisory services, and change leadership coaching.

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