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Managing change How to build resilience in a world that is changing constantly

“Change is the only constant.” That was what Heraclitus of Ephesus said, as far back as 500 BC when change was minimal in comparison to the scale and pace of change today. Nowadays change is the constant order of business whether you are in the midst of an organisational restructure or simply striving to achieve that KPI. Whatever the scenario, the pace at which we are required to work, make decisions and respond to operational demands, both as managers and employees, has increased drastically. Needing to absorb greater strain and delegate more work to fewer staff is taking its toll – it is no wonder we find ourselves resisting change, and personal resilience seems depleted.

In the next 25 years the pace of change will be exponential, not least because of the advances in technology and social media. We will have another two billion people added to the population, fresh water supplies will be close to – if not already– depleted in many parts of the world, alternative menus and recipes for food supplies will need to be explored, and alternative energy sources will need to be discovered or even created to meet the energy demands of a sizeable chunk of the world population. Many species of bird-, sea- and wildlife will become extinct owing to climate change. Most notably, the Arctic will become ice-free in winter months in the 2040s – which will have an impact on habitable land mass for humans, as the sea level is set to rise by as much as six metres by the year 2100, covering most islands and low-lying ground.
 
Closer to home, however, globalisation will continue on the trajectory of organisations continually downsizing their workforce without a corresponding downsize in workload. In fact, quite the opposite will occur. Organisations are anticipated to move towards a larger virtual workforce for many non-core functions, with technology expected to automate most business processes. New industries will pop up such as the Space Industry, geared towards space colonisation. Incredible as their goals sound, there couldn’t be a better combination of Branson, Musk and Tito leading the voyages. This industry is already demanding new skills, new technologies and new solutions as to how and where we as a species will live from as early as the 2040s.
 
Existing industries will be challenged throughout their value chain to remain compliant, maintain quality and safety standards and operate more cost effectively, while still driving forward their growth agenda. This means that the role of leaders, managers and staff will fundamentally change. What is being demanded of us, in essence, is the need to demonstrate a higher degree of resilience than ever before. Unless we recognise that more will be required of us, faster, sooner, with more rigour and more frequently, we will simply resort to old coping mechanisms that will lead to our own demise in the new world.
 
Resilience is defined as an individual's ability to adapt properly to stress and adversity, whether it arises from career, family, health or other related areas of life. Very often, when faced with a challenging situation, person or environment, our bodies react to stress by activating adrenaline and cortisol which in turn trigger physiological changes in the body to cope with the stress. This is not sustainable for long periods of time, and can lead to illnesses and diseases. So what’s the alternative? How does one move from coping with stress to adapting to it?
 
Various pieces of scientific research, conducted by major universities like Harvard and international medical institutions, show that understanding the neuroscience of behaviour and emotions helps to create self-awareness. Various training courses on emotional intelligence have proved useful in achieving a shift in personal consciousness. The use of questionnaires like the Barrett Leadership Survey, which is a 360-degree questionnaire, is a popular tool for providing insights from a range of people who have worked with you, by commenting on their observations of strengths, development opportunities, observed behaviours and required values needing to be demonstrated in the work context so as to achieve business outcomes. Natural interventions like raising fitness levels and engaging in sports and other recreational activities assist with building resilience, while, at the other extreme, resorting to medication to cope better with the effects of stress on the body and mind is a regular occurrence for its fast-acting results. 
 
The sad truth is that not one of the interventions mentioned above builds resilience on its own. The interventions range from providing better insights into your stress triggers to masking the symptoms of the physical, mental and emotional stress with which you are battling.
 
There is however one highly effective way of building resilience. It is to make a personal choice about how you want to relate to every situation you are faced with. For my book, The  Mind Age™: Mastering Your Infinite Mind for Success – for 2040 and beyond, I studied many of the world’s greatest leaders and entrepreneurs, researching how almost all of them were able to achieve such great feats of success from humble beginnings. One of those qualities, I discovered, was the ability to demonstrate resilience in how they behaved in an ever-changing landscape, and how they interacted with change consistently.
 
There were three distinct sets of behaviours:

  • There were people who felt stress was all around them. They related to stress as if they were inside a bubble, while struggling to ‘outrun it, overpower it, climb out of it, get on top of it, or even get under it’ in order to get rid of it. Their approach was that the stressful situation was unnatural.

 

  • Then there were people who felt that in addition to external stress, they were feeling stress within themselves. Feelings of anxiety, tension, anger, frustration, worry, doubt, fear and many other negative emotions featured in their language as they described their association with stress. Their coping mechanism was to deal with the symptoms of stress – through medication, meditation, and exercise. Their approach was simply to cope and get through each situation, without really dispelling the stress.

 

  • The last category of people however was different. They saw stressful situations as opportunities – to learn something new, try something new, do something different, and test their capabilities. Their approach was to deal with challenging situations with enthusiasm, almost as if they were an adventure.
So the big questions are: How does one become resilient? How does one deal with challenging situations as if they are opportunities?
 
The best answer to this, I found, was personal choice.
 
Choice is about consciously:
  • reframing the situation relative to how we see ourselves and the purpose we believe we are to fulfil in our careers and in our lives generally. It is about objectively detaching from the fear of the unknown and viewing the situation as an opportunity to experiment, create or change a difficult or negative situation into something of value.

  • deploying levels of emotion that fuel us in positive rather than debilitating ways to achieve the desired outcome. It is about either parking or converting emotions like anger, frustration, anxiety into something positive, and then embarking on resolving the situation with an attitude of curiosity, optimism and even playfulness, if appropriate.

  • ​​​believing that there is learning in negative experiences. This is an empowering mind-set. It is about challenging ourselves to be optimistic that there will be a positive outcome from the negative experience. It is about a belief system that strengthens, drives and directs effort to achieve positive outcomes.​

Resilience for some is a journey, while for others it’s an event, defined at a point in time which determines how we embark on the rest of our lives. If you are one of those people who is waiting for something at some point in future to happen, to enable you to get back on course with your life, I wish you well. For others who are truly committed to living your best life, and living it immediately, despite the odds, make the choice today, since only you can!
 
We are not 25 years away from the toughest era in history. We are creating it right now. Therefore, who are you being in this moment of creation? And how effectively are you role-modelling the behaviours and attributes that you want to see in others?
 
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Leeann C Naidoo
Leeann C Naidoo is a director level change management consultant, executive coach, keynote speaker and author, with 20 years of international experience, the last 15 of which have been with blue-chip consulting firms such as Deloitte, Capgemini, PricewaterhouseCoopers and EY, in the UK, the Middle East and South Africa. She specialises in leading complex organisational change programmes and developing leadership excellence using a variety of neuroscience-based learning, development and coaching. Leeann is a member of USB-ED faculty. She can be contacted on Leeann@concordia-coaching.com
 
 

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