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Gracious & Strong Podcast with Celia Swanson
The following is a transcription of a podcast and may contain grammatical errors.
Celia Swanson: Hello listeners and welcome to the Gracious and Strong podcast. My name is Celia Swanson, and I want to invite you to listen in on a presentation from the Western Michigan University’s Food Marketing Conference held virtually at the end of March 2021. I was invited to speak to several hundred students and industry leaders on the topic of mastering the odds of disruptive change. And there were two topics that I felt are so relevant to all audiences today that I wanted to share them with you. These two topics are filling the headlines of leadership authors today because they’re focused on what will the workplace look like when we return to work? Will it look like it did before COVID? No, I don’t think so. Will it be exclusively virtual, virtual? No, I don’t think it will be that either. But what will the hybrid or the combination look like and how do we make sure that we’re meeting the needs of our teams and ourselves?
The first topic that we’re going to tackle is psychological safety, and inside psychological safety is the importance of empathy and listening. Empathy and listening are required behavioral characteristics of leaders who are going to be able to create the trust and the environment for psychological safety. When we all come back into the workplace, there are going to be so many questions about the unknown. They’re going to be so many questions about how do I re-engage and how do I ensure that I’m bringing my best self to work every day. This concept of empathy and listening to create psychological safety is core to what great leaders will be able to harness and build in their leadership styles.
And the second is a discussion about the newest leadership competency being sought out and developed in leadership development programs, and that’s resilience. I want to take this opportunity to thank Frank Gambino, the director of retail and CPG food marketing for Western Michigan University and the retail advisory board that invited me to speak to the students and industry leaders. It was a great opportunity, even though still virtual, to connect with the students and connect with your audience. I hope you enjoy the messages and the presentation that I share. Thank you.
The ability to bounce back from setbacks has often been described as the difference between successful people and unsuccessful people. Resilience has been shown to positively impact our work satisfaction and our engagement, but it also has a positive impact on overall wellbeing, and it can actually lower depression levels. There’s also evidence that resilience can help protect us from physical illness, but conventional thinking often describes and assumes that resilience is something that happens when we find ourselves in a untested situation, and it’s a kind of a solitary internal grit that allows us to come through the setbacks as a strong resourceful leader. That’s not necessarily true. New research from the Innovation Research Center for Human Resources shows that resilience is not purely an individual characteristic, but it’s also heavily enabled by strong relationships and networks. People in our support systems can help provide empathy. They can help us laugh at situations that we’re involved in and they can help bolster our resilience through difficult situations by giving us perspective and reminding us that we’re not in this fight alone. In short, resilience is not something we need to find as deep down inside ourselves; it’s something that we can actually build. It’s a building of an expanded network that we utilize to teach us how we can navigate through change. It’s a muscle that can be taught and built, and it can happen through leadership development and the building of that strong network.
Well at Walmart, we utilize an organization by the name of Korn Ferry to help us build our talent management and leadership competency systems. Korn Ferry is a global organizational consulting firm and they specialize in organizational design, organizational structures, leadership competencies, and talent management systems. They help organizations hire the right people, promote the right individuals, reward performance, and motivate their workforce. Let’s look at the definition of resilience provided by Korn Ferry. The definition is rebounding from setbacks and adversity when facing difficult situations, but Korn Ferry goes even further. They have identified the five important behaviors, skilled behaviors of leaders who are strong at resilience. And those five skilled behaviors are: confidence under pressure, handles and manages crisis effectively, maintains a positive attitude despite adversity, bounces back from setbacks, and grows from hardships and negative experiences. What they then have done is created what I’ll call a behavior continuum that we’ve plotted on this chart for you. And the point here with a behavior continuum is that you can see as you evaluate leaders’ behaviors, what it looks like when a leader is less skilled and resilient or talented in resilience. If a leader gets easily rattled under high pressure, that’s less skilled. If they stay focused and composed in stressful situations, that’s more talented. And the point here is to actually measure and reward what you see in the behaviors of your leaders to evaluate their success as a resilient leader.
Characteristics of resilient leaders also include three critical competencies or qualities. And those are: a staunch acceptance of reality, a deep belief—which is often buttressed by strongly held values and a belief that life is meaningful—and an uncanny to improvise. Now, these characteristics actually came from some research from Harvard business review. And the first quote that I’ll share is from Diane Cotu from Harvard, a Harvard Business Review article that she wrote in 2002. And her point here is that you can bounce back from hardships with just one or two of those characteristics, but you will require all three if you’re going to be truly resilient. These characteristics not only hold true for an individual, they also hold hold true for an organization. And the second reference is from Rosabeth Moss Kanter, and she wrote this in July of 2013. Those with resilience build on the cornerstones of confidence: accountability, which is taking responsibility and showing remorse; collaboration, which is supporting others and reaching common goals; and initiative, which is focusing on positive steps and improvements. The title of her article is “Surprises are the New Normal, Resilience is the New Skill.”
How many of you are evaluating resiliency as a competency in your leadership characteristics? If you’re not, I highly suggest that you do. See, resilient leaders find ways to excel in the most challenging situations, and they know that true success comes from not only being your best in your role, but fostering the best and those that you lead. They create an environment of psychological safety, an environment where all can work at their best. Resilient leaders foster their ability to find the lesson in the situation, and they use it as an opportunity to teach and reframe for preparedness into the next challenge. It requires a shift in mindset to lead from a position of resilience and purpose. These leaders find their inner strength and they rely on their expanded and extended network to fuel and live up to their fullest purpose.
Now, let’s shift our focus from you as an individual to you as a leader of people and teams in your organization. One of my goals is to continually quit myself to better serve leaders and their teams. And in the summer of 2020, when my whole business model of being a public speaker changed to being a consultant and advisor in much smaller venues, I chose the Birkman assessment to become a Birkman Certified Professional Coach, because I felt that the research and the understanding that comes from the 65 years of measuring and understanding individual behavior, and then team behavior is a core component of building personal awareness and team awaremness. This research that Birkman has built over the years has also allowed them to help study teams, and what are the critical components for achieving high performing team status. And what they’ve learned is there are three components to core principles, pillars, if you call, them to high-performing teams. They are purpose, clarity, and psychological safety. Let’s break those down. Purpose is the team’s uniting factor for why it exists. The second is clarity and alignment between people and tasks to achieve the team’s goals. And the third is psychological safety, an environment where team members can take personal risks to improve their learnings and increase collaboration.
Well, let’s break these down just a little bit more. The findings here are that without all three of those pillars, it’s really impossible for a team to find true and sustainable success. They are essential for team effectiveness, but most organizations are currently working on purpose and clarity. They show up in mission statements; they show up in the way we do work here, the way we behave here;you see them printed on the walls; you might see them rewarded and replicated in the behaviors that may make our successful culture. But psychological safety is not as familiar as to leaders yet. If you haven’t spent time really studying psychological safety and ensuring that you are focused on psychological safety, then the year 2021 is the year for you to do that. It’s an important time for leaders to actively check in with the people on their teams and to create an environment where team members feel comfortable bringing new ideas or testing risks and innovation without the fear of failure, and perhaps losing their job or be embarrassed, being embarrassed by and the actions that they’ve taken because leaders not understanding the importance of creating a psychologically safe environment. As we’ve learned through the stages of change acceptance, many people today are even more worried about risk taking and change because they’re worried that in this pandemic environment now is not the time to mess up, or they’re worried about job security during this time of pandemic, but that could not be further from the truth today. We must create environments where people feel motivated and energized to bring new ideas to work because that’s where the best ideas come from. And we must create an environment where they feel comfortable taking calculated risks without the fear of insecurity or embarrassment. And when they do, they will bring their very best work to your team. Psychological safety is 100% the responsibility of the leader. It is the gateway to better creativity, fostering innovation, and vibrant collaboration. It’s more important than just with one another, it’s about working for the greater good of the team and the organization.
You know, a story that I would share with you here about psychological safety would be in the space of education. And I think it’s really relevant that we’re here at Western Michigan University at the Food Marketing Conference, learning about how to prepare ourselves to be the best that we can be in this unprecedented time. And the fact that our education system has gone through a tremendous amount of turmoil and change over the last year. When I was at Walmart, the last role I had was leading the talent development function for Walmart, you asked, teaching new associates how to be good at their jobs. So it was a natural fit when I left Walmart to go consult with an organization Forward Arkansas, focused on quality equity and improving outcomes from our public education system in the state of Arkansas. It’s very rewarding work. Then comes the pandemic, and we shut down schools, and we created this barrier of learning through virtual systems. And we had to rethink how we were going to educate, engage and teach our children our future, the way of developing into the successful independent adult that is a high-contributing adult in the future. My hat goes off to the teachers and the administrators who had to make very difficult choices about in-classroom exposure and virtual limitations. The fact of the matter is we navigated those changes. We may not be 100% thrilled with the outcomes, but they don’t define our future success. And we, through this process, have learned that education can happen in so many different ways and venues. And so now we’re no longer in this traditional mindset of classroom education and textbook teaching; we’re opening our skills and abilities to welcome virtual learning and to, yeah, teach where we meet each child. I’m proud to think about what the future of education can look like in the future. And it’s really an important lesson to reflect on and to support as we move into whatever is the next phase of this global pandemic. Education is at the heart of what we must do with excellence.
I would also say that if ever there was a year where we were going to invest in building resilient leaders and creating psychological safety, it would be this year, 2021. We must rebuild educational solutions that allow our children to excel and to encourage their ability to learn and to succeed. We must rebuild business solutions that allow our consumers to be safe and to thrive. We must meet the customer where they are and serve them in the way that they want to be served. And we must be nimble and quick to respond to the ever-changing forces in our marketplace—able to reduce costs, and rapidly, the importance of speed and adjusting to the changing marketplace and implications.
We have worked on a bonus document for you that I’m excited to share, and that’s a download that summarizes what I’ve shared through most of this workshop. And it’s all about navigating disruptive change. We’d like to offer you this download by having you text DISRUPTIVE all caps to 44222 and you’ll receive.