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Valuable Leadership Lessons from the 2022 Resilience Summit – Part 2

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Worldmaker hosted its 9th Annual Resilience Summit at Michigan State University in Lansing, Michigan, USA on October 28, 2022. This is the 2nd blog in a two-part series outlining tangible resilience-building takeaways from the Summit. Click here to read part one.

Building resilience requires learning and practicing life skills

Brigadier General Steven Salazar retired from the U.S. Army in 2012 following 32 years of enlisted and commissioned service, and his last active duty assignment was as director, joint development, Joint Staff J7, where he led the Department of Defense’s concept development and experimentation program. Steve is the Founder of 360 Military – Veteran Partnership, which equips non-commissioned officers with a holistic set of life skills to better themselves, their families and the service members they lead. 

At the Summit, Steve highlighted the immense challenges facing military personnel including toxic leadership, substance abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, harassment and suicide. He noted that military service personnel receive extensive technical training, but little life skills training such as self-care, interpersonal communication and stress management. Steven shared that there is much we can do to train leaders to develop skills that support health and wellness, including physical training, mindfulness, yoga, communication and conflict resolution and psychological fitness.

Takeaway: When people are supported in prioritizing their physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological well-being, they can transform their lives.

To lead in high stakes environments, focus on what you can affect

Kirk Ferguson, is a Worldmaker board member and Chief of Staff at R2P Innovations. He served 25 years in the Army, with 23 years in special operations, and nine combat tours. The background that Kirk shares as a member of Worldmaker’s Speakers Bureau provides some context for the passion he brings to this work:

“As a retired Green Beret, Special Forces Medic and Delta Force Operator, I have been tested many times, both in training and in combat. I vividly recall April 6, 2003. This was the day a friend of mine died from combat wounds on my second tour. He died in my arms, under my care. I kept him alive for two hours after seeing him engaged by a machine gun, but we lost him before the rescue helicopters arrived. This experience set into motion a cascade of life shaping events that showed me the positive results of actively working to build my resilience. I would go on to serve seven more tours, each bringing me face to face with extreme mental, physical and emotional tests. Resilience is often viewed as a person’s natural reaction to physical and mental trauma; the ‘grit’ you were born with. I am here to tell you that it is a skill and it can be honed, like any other skill. It also depends tremendously on the people and supports around you.”

At the Summit, Kirk discussed how stress is a component of one’s environment and experience. He said the key is to keep your focus on what you can affect. He shared examples of this from various special forces missions he conducted, including the importance of learning how to enter the room with a sense of calm when his team was responding to a medical emergency. He then walked attendees through a current situation, where his work team is being tasked with accomplishing the “impossible” in a high-stakes environment under a pressing deadline. Building on General Jeff Buchanan’s discussion of the Eisenhower Decision Matrix, Kirk shared his process of defining the urgent. In his work example, he needed to break down all aspects of the deliverables to identify the pieces of the process that would most likely trip up time sensitive project completion. This then helped him define the most urgent tasks and the tasks he needed to prioritize.

Takeaway: A powerful question for leaders to ask themselves and answer correctly is, "What truly needs my attention and what can I affect?"

Understanding post-traumatic growth can help you thrive after adversity

Bob VandePol, LMSW, is the founder of VandePol Crisis Response Services and formerly served as a Worldmaker board member. He walks alongside communities and organizations after traumatic events and helps to engage stakeholders to create a safe and effective system of crisis response. At the Summit, Bob used the research of Dr. Richard Tedeschi to outline five domains of posttraumatic growth:

  1. Greater appreciation of life and changed sense of priorities
  2. Warmer, more intimate relationships with others
  3. A greater sense of personal strength
  4. Recognition of new possibilities or paths for one’s life
  5. Spiritual development

Bob noted that leaders who grow through challenges need to be both tactical (seeing what’s right in front of them to address immediate needs) and strategic (looking at the horizon to prepare and adjust accordingly). He emphasized that while good leaders learn from past adversities, post-traumatic growth isn’t about denying distress or the difficulty of situations. Rather, it is about holding open possibilities for using adversity to yield positive changes in understanding ourselves, others, and our world. Adversity can lead to a greater sense of both vulnerability and strength, and provide an experience to pull from with an attitude that “if I handled this then I can handle just about anything.”

Takeaway: Leaders are tasked with learning from adversity and ask, “How do I as a person, or we as an organization, want to change because of this experience and become better?”

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