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Resilience and retrenchment

Helping retrenched people bounce back with resilience, deal with their changed financial situation, find a job or start their won business

How to let go of the past and move on

prison-1594946_1920We all experience disappointments, heartaches and setbacks. That’s an unfortunate part of life.

When overcommitted and overworked however, we become particularly vulnerable to reliving past regrets all over again. If this unpleasant rumination is not stopped, we easily get sucked into a downward spiral of negative thoughts and feelings.

If this happens to you, here are seven techniques to let go of the past and move on:

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Leading when things don’t make sense

ID-10097140At times in everyone’s lives, things happen that just don’t make sense. Life isn’t fair – at work and at home.

When bad things happen to you or someone close to you, it’s a double whammy. You have to deal with the event and it’s aftermath, but what often makes it even worse is that sometimes it triggers questions that just don’t have a satisfactory answer.

At work for example, when the company merges with its bitterest competitor or when seemingly lucrative business lines are shut down or when highly valued people are replaced.

We have a need to make sense of life

As humans, we have a need to make sense of life events, and so when our old beliefs and explanations don’t work anymore, we feel frightened and out of control. The fear invokes our primitive “flight or fight” response, our thinking becomes inflexible and any creative problem-solving ability flies out the window.

When there is uncertainty and confusion in organisations, the role of the leader in providing direction and structure comes to the fore. Skilled leaders can prevent or at least mitigate this type of unhelpful reaction. The leader needs to make sense of what has happened for him/herself and at the same time help their teams that are struggling. This leadership role is called “sense making” and is a vital component of resilience leadership.

As a leader, there are five steps that will help your sense making when things don’t seem to make sense: Continue reading

How to Lead with Courage and Resilience

ID-10081666Nine months after her first leadership appointment as Call Centre Manager with 35 team members, Jan was told that her area was to be phased out. This meant that she and her team members would be retrenched if they could not find alternate jobs in the organisation. Due to a head-count freeze, this was unlikely to happen.

She was also asked to maintain “business as usual” until the final closing down of the unit which would take several months.

She had to deal on a personal basis with her own anger and fear about what had happened. At the same time, she had to sustain the resilience of her team members, if she was going to have any hope of keeping the unit task-focused and productive to the very last day.

Ordinary people like Jan are called upon to be extra-ordinary leaders in really difficult times. It’s then that courage plays a central part in resilient leadership.

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How to build a resilient team

Some years back, I managed sales and administration teams. Some teams consistently exceeded targets whilst others consistently under performed. The under-performing teams inevitably blamed market conditions and other environmental factors for their lack-luster performance.

Yet some of the top performing teams faced even worse obstacles and still managed to excel.

So what could explain the difference?

I eventually concluded that the difference in team performance arose as a result of how the teams reacted to their difficulties.

Top performing teams viewed their difficulties as challenges that could be overcome. They believed their work was meaningful. They assisted and helped each other. Their leaders were visible and involved with their teams. As a result, the top performing teams coped much better with unrelenting pressure, change and uncertainty.

Put simply, the difference was in the teams’ resilience. Continue reading

The Building Resilience Handbook is going free!

The Building Resilience Book

The Building Resilience Book

The Building Resilience Handbook is normally available as an e-book for Kindle at $13.65. To thank you for reading my newsletters about resilience, I am making it freely available to you for a limited period.

Have a look at some of the reviews of the book:

  • “Inspiring and applicable throughout one’s lifetime” Fred Irumba, science teacher, Jakindaba Senior Secondary School.
  • “Easy to implement at work and home. The results are remarkable!” Brent Beilinsohn, Manager, Old Mutual Investment Group South Africa.
  • “Mind blowing! Implementing these practical exercises has made me a better person” Fanuel Kakuiya, Senior Superintendent, South African Police Services.

Imagine having abundant inner strength and resourcefulness to withstand and recover quickly from whatever difficulties life may throw at you. With The Building Resilience Handbook you can. Continue reading

Stressful job? You need mental strength!


If you feel you have a stressful job you’re not alone. 83% of workers in the USA feel stressed out by their jobs (reference here) and in South Africa it’s estimated that 60% of lost working days each year are a result of stress (reference here).

Some working conditions make jobs particularly stressful:

  • dealing with the public (nurses, teachers, call-center staff)
  • dealing with dangerous situations (fire-fighters, police)
  • complex decision-making (executives, airline pilots, project managers, IT)
  • time pressure (medical workers)
  • repetitive work (factory staff)
  • persuading (sales)
What can you do if have a stressful job?

If you can’t change stressful working conditions, then you need to develop mental strength (more here). Here’s four things to do: Continue reading

Help! I am feeling overwhelmed!

Lost and Confused SignpostToo many people making demands on you, too much to do and too little time to do it do it in? Too many e-mails and too many meetings? Everyone wants a piece of you?

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. People working in organisations today seem to be increasingly stressed, having to achieve more with fewer resources.  In a recent Knowledge Resources survey, 80% of the respondents said their workload had increased substantially and most felt overwhelmed. This is in line what I have also found (more here).

You know feeling constantly overwhelmed is an indication of a dangerously high level of stress. You also know that high levels of stress will have severe negative impacts on you, affecting your productivity, your colleagues and your loved ones.

But if you’re like so many others, understanding the negative consequences of feeling consistently overwhelmed doesn’t automatically translate into knowing what to do to change.

Fortunately there are things you can do to help. Here are seven things that have helped leaders and managers I coach and may help you too: Continue reading

How to be mentally strong

Life is just not fair! That’s why we need to be resilient and mentally strong. I described what mental strength is in the previous Building Resilience Update (here), and I will now explain how to be mentally strong.

Stick with me as I give you some theory first.

At its core, mental strength is all about how we interpret the things that happen to us, as we make sense of our lives. What’s fascinating is that mentally strong people interpret the difficult things that happen in their lives completely differently to the people who are less mentally strong. Mentally tough people explain a negative event to themselves by: Continue reading

I’ve been robbed! I’ve been retrenched! I’m dropping out!

Last week started with a frantic call from a friend: “The security company called to say that my house has been broken into. The front door is broken and standing wide open. Please will you go and help?”

She was holidaying in Knysna, about six hours away. We rushed over to her house, to find drawers strewn about, and her flat screen TVs and jewelry missing.

Midweek I spent some time with two senior managers who had been retrenched. My brief was to assist them to find replacement income streams.

At the end of the week, I addressed a workshop on how the alarmingly high drop-out rate of first year university students can be reduced. Continue reading

How to Develop Grit

The previous Building Resilience blog was all about grit (click here). Grit helps children not to give up too quickly when encountering difficulty. Adults call on grit to sustain long-term relationships, pursue tertiary studies and stay task focussed in their work career. In this way, grit is an important component of resilience.

I received lots of comment from readers, most wanting to find out more about grit or asking if it can be developed. So here we go: Continue reading

Have you got grit?

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up”. This was supposed to have been said by Thomas Edison, the man who also said that invention is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

The implication is that success is due to hard work, rather than intelligence or even luck. But is that true?

Angela Duckworth may have the answer. She is a highly respected researcher on the subject of what she calls grit: “perseverance and patience for long-term goals”. She has found that grit is what differentiates people who persist and achieve long-term excellence, as opposed to those who start off well, but lose enthusiasm and give up.

She found that the amount of grit one has is the best predictor of success in school, in the military and in corporate sales, rather than intelligence or even luck. Continue reading

The Building Resilience Handbook selected as set work for University of Cape Town MBA students

The Building Resilience Handbook is the set work for the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business 2012 MBA class. Professor Kurt April, who teaches the Advanced Leadership module, has selected it as the set work, and structured his lectures on the seven constructs or principles outlined in the book. He believes that resilience is a key differentiator in leadership, and thus central to his teachings at the university.

The book assists people build their inner resourcefulness to deal with tough jobs and pressurised projects, to cope and even thrive in the face of adversity.

It is available from

Is it true that “what does not kill you, makes you stronger”?

IMG_0018We have all heard of that saying, but is it true?


In a study published in the latest issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Dr. Seery reports that people who had experienced some misfortune over the course of their lives, were more content with their lot in life and reported better mental health, then people with either a history of great adversity or having experienced no adversity at all.


It seems that a certain amount of adversity and tough times is necessary in order to develop our coping mechanisms. High levels of adversity however, overwhelm our coping ability and the result is a feeling of hopelessness, loss of control and mental health problems. Continue reading

Busting the myths about resilience

Myth 2: Resilient people do not experience as much emotional pain or distress as less resilient people.


2008-06 Road trip to Comrades 010Everyone wants their loving relationships to endure and be strengthened. We hate the thought of the people we love aging, becoming infirm and ultimately dying. Parents want the very best for their children and in particular that they should grow up resisting the temptation of alcohol, drugs, lawlessness, devious behaviour, and illicit sex. At work, we all want our jobs to be secure, to have a boss who treats us well, and to be paid fairly. And we want all of this all of the time.


However that’s not how life works. Everyone experiences up and downs in life and no matter who you are, life is still difficult. No matter how hard we want or wish something to happen, no matter how hard we work for a particular result, there will be times when we are disappointed, frustrated and let-down. This happens to everyone — and resilient people are not exempt.


In addition, bad things do happen to good people. Out of the blue, terrible things happen despite your precautions. Robberies, random violence, car accidents, rape and murder can happen at any time with terrible results and consequences for both the person experiencing the calamity, and that person’s family. You can take as many the precautions as you can to prevent these things happening, but sometimes they just do. Continue reading

Busting the myths about resilience

Despite resilience being such a wonderful ability and one we all have, there are many misconceptions about it. Having covered what resilience is, it’s important to understand what resilience isn’t. These are the myths of resilience.


Myth 1: Resilience is a characteristic that shows up in extraordinary people and is something they are born with.


100410_renamed_31404The myth that resilience is something only a few people are born with arises from the media focusing on the heroic examples of people who have dramatically risen above their circumstances. We often see on TV talk shows, the evening news or on the internet, examples of people who have been through the most remarkably difficult circumstances and have been able to cope and even thrive.

 An example is that of Callie and Monique Strydom who were kidnapped in Malaysia by Al Quaeda rebels and survived four months under the harshest circumstances. On a daily basis they were threatened with death. They lived on an emotional rollercoaster as their hopes for rescue were raised, only to be cruelly dashed, time after time. They eventually were released, and returned triumphantly to South Africa and established a trust in their names to assist disadvantaged people. Continue reading

Four steps to be resilient in times when you need it the most! Step number four



This is the last blog in the series and addresses the fourth step of how be resilient in the moment.


Step 4 How can I persevere and reach out?

Having dealt with the issues of one’s heart and head and maintaining an appropriate perspective when confronted with challenging times, we are now turn to dealing with the actual adversity. This involves perseverance and reaching out to others.


IMG_1327It seems obvious that perseverance is necessary to deal with changed circumstances and tough times. Logically resilience seems to imply one needs to guard against giving up too soon or being overwhelmed in the face of great difficulties. The reality however is somewhat more subtle. A special kind of perseverance is needed which is characterised by open-mindedness and flexibility. This is different from the type of bull-headed, “full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes” persistence involving resolute drive, power and tenacity.


Open-minded and flexible perseverance almost sounds like a contradiction. Nevertheless to be resilient, one must be open to new ways of doing things, embrace different ways of dealing with problems, employ active listening, seek differing views and be open to a change of tactics or even strategy. At the heart of these actions is a flexible mindset. Continue reading

Four steps to be resilient in times when you need it the most! Step number three.


This is the fourth blog in the series and addresses the third of the four steps of how to be resilient in the moment.


Step 3. How can I keep perspective?
Perspective is at the heart of the conviction that one is able to influence the direction of one’s life and that the inevitable problems encountered along life’s journey can be solved. Resilient people choose to have a positive rather than negative attitude. This echo’s Viktor Frankl’s thoughts and logotherapy concepts: “…everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”.


We all tell ourselves stories about ourselves to make sense of our experiences of life. These stories mould and ultimately define who we are, and in this way, the stories we tell ourselves actually continually create ourselves. In this way optimists view the good things they experience as permanent and affecting everything, whereas the bad things they experience are perceived as temporary and having limited effect on their overall lives. Continue reading

Four steps to be resilient when you need it the most! Step number two.



This is the third blog in the series and addresses the second of the four steps to be resilient in the moment.

Step 2: What thoughts and feelings will assist me?
Experiencing fear and anxiety and strong negative thoughts is common when confronted by a stressful situation. The problem with negative thoughts and the associated narrow thinking is that it shuts out and excludes the type of broad thinking required for flexibility and the exploration of alternatives.
In stressful situations, negative thoughts and narrow thinking are associated with a reduction in positive feelings which are literally squeezed out by the more powerful negative feelings. The world becomes bleak. It’s easy to slip into a downward spiral of negative thinking. This is humorously illustrated on a plaque half-way up the long and arduous trip up the Hex Mountain Range to the starting overnight hut on the Witels Kloofing trail:
witels poemThe way is long and getting longer
The road goes uphill all the way,
and even farther.
I wish you luck. You will need it.
The way is dark and getting darker
The hut is high, and even higher
I wish you luck
There is none.
Adapted from The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber Continue reading

Four steps to be resilient in times when you need it the most!


This is the second blog in the series and addresses the first of the four steps to be resilient in the moment.

Step 1: What do I really, really want?
The first thing to do when encountering a situation which makes the heart hammer and the eyes grow large, is to pause. Not to react immediately. Except in the face of a physical threat such as encountering a bush fire, a quick response is frequently later regretted. This is because a quick response is often an automatic response that comes from deep within that part of our brain which deals with the threats that we as a species faced on the plains of Africa when we encountered marauding tribes or sabre-toothed lions. In those situations, where a quick physical reaction was prerequisite for survival, the amygdalia in our brain determined our mode of physical reaction: fight, flight or freeze. Powerful chemicals such as the hormones adrenaline and cortisol instantly flooded our blood streams to give our muscles the strength we needed to save our lives from the physical threat.  Continue reading