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Resiliency: A Leadership Superpower
Marie Kalliney Executive Director | December 18, 2020
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In a prior post, I talked about the importance of empathy as a leadership superpower. Today I’d like to highlight the resiliency leadership superpower—and how it can help you and others move past friction, avoid exacerbating what may have started as a misunderstanding, and ultimately build stronger, more resilient teams and organizations.

The resiliency leadership superpower can help you and others move past friction, avoid exacerbating what may have started as a misunderstanding, and ultimately build stronger, more resilient teams and organizations.

Here’s a quick story about the power of resiliency. I was in a meeting recently with a man who made a remark that offended me. Yes, it was prefaced by the perfunctory “excuse my language, but…”, and at face value, I can say with certainty that he didn’t mean to offend me or anyone else, and I’m sure it didn’t cross his mind that I would be offended. If he had known that, I’m reasonably sure he wouldn’t have said it.

As part of organizational leadership, you are responsible for ensuring that members of your team feel safe in the workplace.

In the moment, I didn’t know what to do, so I waited it out. The meeting went on uninterrupted, and it gave me a chance to reconcile these facts:

  1. I’m a woman; he’s a man.
  2. Organizationally, he’s more senior than I am.
  3. I didn’t feel psychologically safe.
  4. I don’t have a close working relationship with him.
  5. I wondered how he would respond if I said something.

I also had a few options to consider:

  1. Pretend it didn’t happen and say nothing.
  2. Say something to him during or at the end of the meeting, either in front of other meeting attendees or privately.
  3. Do something later, such as escalate to management or HR.

Then I thought about the advice I’d give a friend if she were to ask me what I would do in the same situation. Thinking about my dilemma through that lens made a world of difference. I knew in an instant the advice I’d give: Face the situation head on and say something in the moment so that it didn’t fester. Pretending that it didn’t happen and saying nothing would only drive a wedge in the working relationship.

Here’s how it played out: I waited until there was a pause in the conversation. I took a breath, and maintained eye contact as best as I could over Zoom. In an evenhanded tone, I said, “I’m offended by the language you used earlier. It’s just not appropriate in the workplace, and it made me feel uncomfortable.”

He apologized sincerely right away.

I genuinely accepted his apology.

The meeting continued on.

My point is that in this instance, both of us acted in a resilient way. I took a risk because I didn’t know how he’d react. It was up to me whether to accept his apology and move on. I did, and I bounced back. I’m proud of myself for facing a challenging circumstance by speaking my mind.

But let’s remember that he also had options: Apologize, defend himself, or make a power play by doubling down.

Let’s think a bit more about his response.

He apologized for using inappropriate language in the workplace and for making me uncomfortable. He acknowledged that as part of organizational leadership, he is responsible for ensuring that members of his team feel safe in the workplace. That responsibility extends to creating and maintaining an environment where everyone can voice their opinions in a professional manner, even if it means disagreeing with the boss and speaking up if they feel uncomfortable, offended, or even under attack.

Leadership responsibility extends to creating and maintaining an environment where everyone can voice their opinions in a professional manner, even if it means disagreeing with the boss.

He also admitted that he was a little taken aback when I spoke up. He had moved on from the comment that offended me and didn’t think much of it. He told me that he apologized because he has a great deal of respect for me and everyone else on his team. It hadn’t occurred to him that what he said would be so personally offensive, and my speaking up made him aware that other team members may also have been offended but not been brave enough to speak up. Later, he told me that he was evaluating other turns of phrase he has used in the past and was working on adjusting his assumptions about language in the workplace. He commented that working from home 100% of the time may have blurred the lines a bit between his work behavior and at-home behavior.

All in all, our mutual resiliency turned a negative experience into a positive one. As you know, one of the 12 principles of agile is “Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.” If team members don’t feel safe about speaking up, it could result in repercussions for the product, the customer and ultimately, the entire organization. Even though it took a prompt from me, this leader is working on building the kind of work environment that gives team members the support they need to get the job done.

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