HR Leadership Column

A 'Super' Lesson on Resiliency

As the New England Patriots recently demonstrated in their comeback win in the Super Bowl, the capacity to recover quickly from failure and difficulties is an important trait for all leaders, including CHROs and the people they support.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017
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I'm not much of a football fan. My husband is, and he watches as many college and professional football games as he can. All fall and winter. Every Saturday. Every Sunday. Every Monday. Every Thursday.

So, as a matter of survival in the marriage, I pay some attention to what's going on in the NFL. And since we live in New England, I really paid attention to the Patriots -- not just for my marriage, but so I could look reasonably informed when a discussion turned to the team at any local meeting or social event I attended.

This is all a long lead-in to explain why I -- a non-football fan -- watched the Super Bowl: I wanted to share the experience with my spouse, and I didn't want to look like an idiot when the game was discussed wherever I went afterward.

If you were on another planet and missed it, the first half of the game didn't go too well for the Patriots. The second half, however, was an entirely different story. The team entered the third quarter but came back from a 25-point deficit, but was able to come back to win in the first overtime game in Super Bowl history.

After the game, the players were repeatedly asked by reporters to share what had happened in the locker room during halftime. What did the coaches and players say or do? What was the mood?

The reason everyone asked these questions was simple: They wanted to know how the team was so resilient that it was able to come from so far behind to win the game.

Resiliency isn't just an important trait for football players. The capacity to recover quickly from failure and difficulties is important for all leaders, including CHROs and the people they support. Unless a business is standing still, adversity, setbacks and challenges are all part of the day-to-day reality. If leaders don't have the courage or capacity to address these difficulties, their business and the people who work there are likely to be disadvantaged.

So how do you build resiliency -- especially since the need for it usually arises when you're most stressed, most uncomfortable and most challenged? 

In my experience, people who are resilient have developed coping skills, some of which are gained through experience. When you've handled a few fire drills in your career -- and survived -- you're better able to cope with the next drill. I suspect the fact that the Patriots' quarterback, Tom Brady, had experience in four previous Super Bowls, and that the team had come from behind in many previous games, made a difference in the team's ability to cope when it was so far behind in the most important game of the year.

I've also seen that being able to maintain perspective is critical. Sometimes, bad things happen to good people -- but is it the end of the world? Taking time to reflect on what has happened, and being realistic about the true scope or duration of a problem, is important. As one mentor once told me, "Don't catastrophize!" You'll be much better at coping if you don't assume every roadblock is the end of the road, or that every dispute will destroy working relationships.

Here too, I think the Patriots players demonstrated their ability to keep things in perspective. Virtually every player interviewed after the game noted that "a football game is a 60-minute game." They didn't focus on how far behind they were -- they focused on the fact that the game wasn't over until it was over.

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Resilient leaders also have a support network -- friends and colleagues who they can rely on during difficult times. These are the people who understand the world in which you work, and can offer advice and support when they're needed to restore your equilibrium. Some of these people may be work colleagues, and some may be outside of work. But these are the people you can call and ask, "Are these folks crazy, or am I?" and get an honest reply.  For the winning Patriots, I think the entire team believed and supported their teammates -- all commented on the fact that the win was a team effort, and highlighted the important roles each other played in making it happen.

Lastly, some of the most resilient leaders I've known paid attention to their own health -- getting enough sleep; exercising regularly; eating healthy. Don't be the cobbler's child, taking care of everyone else, but failing to take care of yourself. Tom Brady is almost 40 years old, and has maintained a disciplined approach to protecting his own health and well-being, thereby allowing him to play many years longer than most.

I won't say that the Super Bowl turned me into a football fan. But it did remind me of the importance of resilience in being successful -- no matter what field you're playing on.

Susan R. Meisinger, former president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, is an author, speaker and consultant on human resource management. She is on the board of directors of the National Academy of Human Resources.


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