A Not-So-Secret Sauce for Building Resilience During and After Change

Today’s post, from Christine Lustik, the owner of Mindfulness in Organizations, LLC., is all about resilience. In a continuation of our series, “In a Time of Crisis,” we asked Christine to share the lessons she has learned working with organizations to develop resiliency. While she doesn’t have a way to make this fall less challenging for all of us, Christine does have some great ideas for you to prepare for times of crisis and maybe even come out of them stronger than before.

The first post in this series focused on self-care for us as individuals. You can check out the great tips here.

I hope you are able to put the advice from these outstanding authors in place in your lives and for your organizations soon.

Enjoy the read and stay healthy,

Lindsey Downs, WCET


My name may be familiar to some of you. About 10 years ago, I was an active member of WCET as a proud Steering Committee member and a Director of Distance Education in Wyoming. I believed in the work we did, and yet, it still turned into something with a stress level that was not healthy for me. I didn’t have the tools to manage. I left higher education.

I pivoted only a few years after obtaining my PhD in Education. I found the contemplative practice of Mindfulness supported my stress level and began using my education background to research resilience and how we can strengthen the quality of resilience as individuals, teams, and organizations.

Our Interesting Place in Our Interesting World

It is an interesting place in which we find ourselves, this pandemic world. And it is not just the pandemic. There is a very real need for the issues around racial injustice to stay front and center, and for all of us to fight discrimination in our own arenas. There are a lot of big, important changes occurring at one time. As members of WCET, we have often been at the forefront of creativity and innovation within our institutions, but here we are facing something nobody saw coming: a school year that nobody can even pretend to predict. It feels a bit like we are all in Vegas betting on a brand-new sporting event and we do not know the rules. But really, we do know the rules. It is the same #1 rule that those of us at the forefront of merging technology, distance, and education have used all along. It is about students and it is about outcomes. We know that students and outcomes are more important than the ‘how’ and if we remember that rule, we can move forward.

I am not here to share the secret sauce for what school should look like this fall. I mean, if I had the secret sauce for this, I would share, but I don’t. In this new world in which we find ourselves, I see many of my past peers and friends struggling with familiar physical and mental stress symptoms. What I do have are some best practices for how you and your teams can come out the other end of the 2020/2021 school year not only alive, but maybe even a little stronger.

Three Ingredients (or lessons learned)

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Photo by Calum Lewis on Unsplash

Resilience is a word that people use in many ways, but when defining it, we often leave off the most important part. Resilience is not only overcoming challenges and times of change. Resilience is growing from and getting stronger because of those challenges. One often hears the term, “bouncing back,” but hopefully we are not bouncing back to where we were. Instead, because of the tools and lessons we learned, when we go through those challenges and changes, we come out the other side stronger than we started. Individuals can get stronger. Teams can get stronger. Organizations can get stronger.

But how?

Instead of that secret sauce for school this fall, I have a recipe for resilience that I hope will help you and your teams this year. Today, I am going to share the top three ingredients for building resiliency. These are lessons learned that I have gathered from research and working with civic, healthcare, and educational organizations over the past 6 years teaching them the skills of resilience.

Ingredient #1 – Clearly Align Values

Most commonly, our values are demonstrated in a company’s mission, vision, and culture. Our values may range from diversity to kindness, courage, integrity, community, and stewardship, just to name a few possibilities.

Organizations who enlist my help often find me because they recently went through a challenge or a sudden change and the organization reacted poorly, stressfully, and even chaotically. I have observed that these organizations repeatedly do not have clear values connected across the organization. What I mean by clear values, is that at every level they use the organizational values in their decision making. Also, they have worked to support individuals throughout in connecting to their own values and identifying if their own personal values align with that of the organization.

Kim and Fuessel (2020) stress how clarity in our values and alignment with our mission and vision support institutions in their efforts to empower and be changemakers. It’s much easier to take on hard work when our individuals and teams fully understand how decisions align with our stated values and ethically, they believe in those values and the decision made because of them.

Moving forward with a shared vision and sense of purpose is invigorating and exciting. Moving forward with fear and disconnect is exhausting.

Ingredient #2 Strengthen Communication, Specifically Dialogue

Dialogue includes the ability to listen with the goal of understanding, not the goal of responding. Only once we fully understand another’s position can we move forward. Listening to respond often means we are listening to come out on top, and that is where the “hat won’t work…” and “We tried that before…” responses arise. But listening to hear where an idea came from and why that person thinks it will work, is more likely to connect the dots and provide better opportunities for all.

In studying what makes a higher education institution resilient, Canney noted that enhanced internal communication is a key to resilience. She stated, “another area of internal communication was about offering a safe location for the generation of creative ideas to be offered regarding the future of the institution” (2012).

There is no safety in brainstorming, no possibility of creativity, when someone is used to being shut down by their team members or leaders.

If we want to feel energized by new ideas, we must be open to them, versus always expecting new ideas will not work.

Ingredient #3 Embrace Change

This seems obvious. The change is already happening, of course we are embracing it. But are we? Do your thoughts and conversations end up focused on the why did this happen and the how good life would be if it had not? Or are your thoughts focused on how to move forward in a positive, productive way? Do you dread what could be different? Do you find yourself reminiscing about your preferred ‘normal’? Or have you found yourself accepting that there is a shift and finding the positive in it?

It is human to think about the past as the good old days, but really, it’s possible that we can make the good old days even better. Perhaps we have a reset button that opens us up too many possibilities.

Change, especially sudden, unexpected change, is jarring, and it impacts each of us differently depending on our life circumstances. Paulson (2016) does a great job of studying the many facets of change that can occur and the effects it can have on an organization and its people. But once change has happened, the key to finding resilience for anyone and any organization is accepting that it has happened, so they can let go of the whys and what ifs and focus on that reset, clean slate in front of them.

Possibility is a gift when we can see it.

Resilient people and organizations actively work to strengthen the qualities of self-awareness, self-efficacy, hope, and optimism. In my experience, finding clarity in our values, strengthening our ability to have effective dialogue, and looking forward to new possibilities, it is possible to grow in new directions with strength, grace, and health.

Christine Lustik, PhD is owner of Mindfulness in Organizations, LLC. After spending 14 years in leadership and the online education arena of higher education, Christine now works with leaders and teams who find themselves in a culture of stress, disconnection, overwhelm, and chaos. We use the practices of Mindfulness and pro-active resilience to change the culture to one of connection, productivity, focus, and resiliency.

References

Canney, Jane W. (2012). What makes a higher education institution resilient: An interpretive case study. Education Doctoral Dissertations in Organization Development. 15. https://ir.stthomas.edu/caps_ed_orgdev_docdiss/15

Kim, M. & Fuessel, A. (2020, April 27). Leadership, resilience, and higher education’s promise. Stanford Social Innovation Review. https://ssir.org/articles/entry/leadership_resilience_and_higher_educations_promise

Paulson, Mary E. H. (2016). Stressful change in higher education: An interpretive case study. Education Doctoral Dissertations in Organization Development. 56. https://ir.stthomas.edu/caps_ed_orgdev_docdiss/56

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My name is Lindsey Rae Downs. I am the Assistant Director of Communications and Community for WCET, the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies. I work remotely from beautiful Helena, MT.

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