Guest Columns

Developing personal and organizational skills of resilience

Martie L. Moore, RN, MAOM, CPHQ
Martie L. Moore, RN, MAOM, CPHQ

[Editor's Note: This is a follow-up to the original blog post “Bouncing Back, Bouncing Forward, and How About Just Bouncing?”]

Developing resilient leadership traits is not something that just happens. Conscious effort must be made to build and maintain resilient skill sets as part of a leader's toolbox. The same can be said for an organization.

When you turn to the research on organizational resilience, the majority revolves around an event and the need to restore an organization back to some state of normalcy after a high focal event. In my career, I have dealt with confrontations involving guns and knives, hospital evacuations, patient suicides, and unexpected employee deaths. These and other events take the organization's breath away, but many times, organizations pull together in an unusual way. It seems that most people are at their best during times of high tension and focus.  

For those types of events, an organization must take several clear actions to help heal and move forward. Most organizations practice disaster response and know what to do in an emergency situation, but addressing emotional needs remains unpracticed.

Before you find yourself in the midst of a crisis, review what support systems you have in place. Do you have counselors to help your team come to terms with the event? Delayed reaction is not uncommon, so having continuous support structures to help your organization work through the event is absolutely mandatory.

Be open and transparent about what has occurred. The worst action is no action, or silence. “Cricket syndrome” is what some employees call a lack of information, when all you hear are crickets: no information, no communication. This creates anxiety and distrust. Be visible as well. Having leadership available and present to employees assists the organization in regaining resiliency and moving forward.

When an event occurs, the goal of leadership is to help the organization gain equilibrium and refocus. But what happens when resilience is needed within an organization not from a specific event, but from the daily wear and tear?

In my own leadership, I found myself in the vortex of this issue. Our leadership team was going through the motions: We blamed everything on the budget, rationalized our performance regarding quality indicators, and failed to celebrate successes. We started to hear such comments as, "We have too many initiatives," "What are our priorities?" and, "Just tell us what to do."

The wear and tear of healthcare in today's environment had taken its toll. The organization was tired, leadership was tired, and you could see it in our outcomes and our actions. I found myself saying we needed to think about creating resilience within our organization. My statement was greeted with dead silence, and suddenly everyone was staring at their phones. No one knew what to say or even where to start.

In her article, "Leadership in Turbulent Times is Spiritual," Margaret Wheatley states that when an organization is going through a black night, it is important to stay in the confusion. Most times, leaders look for immediate solutions. But doing that does not help the organization work through the discomfort. As people lose certainty about their current reality, they become open to startlingly new ideas and new energy.

Suffering is defined as the state of undergoing pain, distress or hardship. When you ask your teams what causes suffering for them, you will hear truth about what is truly influencing your organization. Most leaders step away from the term “suffering.” Don't. It takes courage, but it opens dialogue to lead the organization forward. For us, it helped regain focus on the meaning of our work as an organization.

Nothing motivates human beings more than meaningful work. Just as we were willing to hear what caused suffering within the organization, we wanted to hear what brought meaning. Researchers have found that people ascribe astonishingly deep meaning to their work. When we have the time to pause and reconnect with the initial idealism, our energy and rededication are found in those ideas.

Thus came the power of storytelling and listening. As we heard the stories of suffering, we also heard the stories of meaning, which helped us focus on engaging the heads and hearts of our team. We celebrated our stories, and we celebrated our team. Sometime later, I found myself smiling during a meeting when the topic of resilience was discussed and no one looked at their phones during the conversation.

What can you do to assist your organization? First of all, acknowledge that your organization might be suffering. Acknowledge that you might be suffering. Don't try to solve it: Talk about what is causing the suffering but don't develop solutions just yet. Have someone else facilitate these conversations so you can listen. Thank those who shared. This is a moment of trust. Appreciate the moment for what it is. Don't feel defensive; they are giving you a gift. They are helping you move the organization forward.

Next, listen to what brings meaning. When you listen, you hear what truly motivates employees. Engage them to help you to address the issues of suffering and solidify more meaning into their work. Then be ready to get out of their way: Employees have fabulous ideas.

Here are some examples:

• Paint a wall with chalkboard paint and write appreciation notes to each other. Patients and families love this wall as well and join in writing notes of appreciation.

• Start every meeting or shift with a story of why you do the work you do and the impact you are making on the lives you touch.

• Practice storytelling through communications such as writing personal notes of appreciation or newsletters that focus on your stories.

• Be ready to revisit suffering. Listen and acknowledge; don't try to solve. Engage others in developing possible solutions, but keep grounded in what is meaningful for your organization.

A resilient organization is not something you obtain and then forget about as you move onto another action. It is about cultural transformation and, yes, leadership transformation.

Martie Moore is the chief nursing officer at Medline.

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