Surviving and Thriving in the Face of Failure – Post #2

Stress Reduction... Ouch
Some ways to deal with stress are not as effective as others

In an effort to help service people cope with negative emotions connected with failure and other difficult experiences, the U.S. Army is providing resiliency training to soldiers and drill sergeants. The goals are to reduce the number of Army service people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and to actually increase the number who can grow after experiencing PTSD.

I find it interesting that growth, not merely recovery, is one of the goals. While enduring the trauma of war and losing one’s company (as Steve Jobs did at Apple) clearly are not the same thing, it’s interesting that the U.S. Army is trying to help service members to view difficult experiences as catalysts for improved performance.

The Army’s effort is described in the article “Building Resilience” by Martin E. P. Seligman, which appeared in the April 2011 issue of Harvard Business Review. Seligman is the Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology and director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. He also is the author of the book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being (Free Press, 2011).

In a nutshell, Seligman writes, “Thirty years of research suggests that resilience can be measured and taught—and the U.S. Army is putting that idea to the test with a program called Comprehensive Soldier Fitness. The aim of CSF is to make soldiers as fit psychologically as they are physically. A key component of CSF is ‘master resilience training’ for drill sergeants—a form of management training that teaches leaders how to embrace resilience and then pass it on, by building mental toughness, signature strengths (such as curiosity, bravery, persistence, integrity, fairness, leadership and self-regulation), and strong relationships.”

A series of specific courses have been developed to help soldiers and sergeants amplify positive emotions, recognize when negative emotions are out of proportion to the threat and to build a variety of relationship skills—including fostering trust, constructively managing conflict, creating shared meaning, and recovering from betrayal.

There’s even a program on “spiritual fitness,” which takes soldiers through the process of building a “spiritual core” with self-awareness, a sense of urgency, self-regulation, self-motivation and social awareness. According to Seigman, “’Spiritual’ in CSF refers not to religion but to belonging to and serving something larger than self.”

There’s much more to the Army CSF program, but these courses alone appear to be a pretty good “starter list” for any organization interested in designing a resiliency training and development module for leaders and employees.

Next post: How losing a client led to increased personal and business resilience at Intertech.

Surviving and Thriving in the Face of Failure – Post #1

Steve Jobs
Even legends fail (most times, it’s a right of passage)

The sad passage of Apple CEO Steve Jobs has gotten me thinking about failure. Sure, Jobs was a widely successful entrepreneur and technology visionary, but he also was let go from the top spot at Apple when he was 30. Jobs credited that event (in retrospect) with transforming him into the leader of Apple that he ultimately became. In the years between getting fired and returning to the helm of Apple, Jobs developed his vision and his passion for technical and design excellence at a little known company called Pixar. (Pixar was no longer obscure, of course, after Jobs’ tenure and the debut of the delightful movie “Toy Story.”)

What is it about failure that helps propel some people forward and leaves others behind in a bitter heap? Steve Jobs had every right to be bitter after getting bounced from Apple, a company that he co-founded at the tender age of 20. Instead, though, he picked himself and his bruised ego up and moved forward. He realized that he still loved technology and finding ways to make it matter to people. He took on a new challenge and helped pioneer pixel animation technology, creating an entirely new industry in the process.

I think the key can be found in how Jobs decided to accept the blame for what happened. While it certainly must have stung, he obviously didn’t get stuck in blaming others or himself. He accepted the situation, assessed his options and moved on!

That’s resilience and it appears to be a key attribute of most successful people. Harvard Business Review dedicated its entire April issue to the “f” word. I’m going to take a figurative page from HBR and devote my next several posts to failure and what it means in a business context (and even in the U.S. Army). And I’ll share a few of my own less-than-stellar moments and what I’ve learned in the process.

How to Cultivate Engaged Employees – 6th in a series of 6 related Posts

Fast Isn't Always Good!
Just because it’s fast, doesn’t mean it’s best!

Guideline #6– Don’t insist that a decision must be made

“Conventional management wisdom holds that a flawed decision is better than no decision,” writes HBR author Charalambos Vlachoutsicos. He goes on to advise that leaders should reject conventional wisdom: “If you can’t get agreement on a decision, don’t rush to impose one. Think instead about putting in place a process that yields decisions, even slowly made ones, that everyone can accept even if agreement is not unanimous.”

As I noted in previous posts, we have a clear process in place for working through issues and coming to agreement at Intertech. Having a process takes time and, more critically, discipline. I do believe, however, that decisions should be made when it is possible to do so without further discussion. “Analysis paralysis” can result when leaders do not feel empowered to make decisions, no matter how small they might be.

In situations where more discussion truly is required, it helps to send out all the information related to the decision in advance. Prepping in advance means people can arrive informed and ready to discuss, versus wasting precious meeting time waiting for everyone to read through long documents. For more on meetings, check out chapter 65 of my book, “Make Meetings Matter.”