It’s exciting. And it’s hard. A few steps forward might be followed by a few steps back. But we can agree that every setback presents an invitation to practice resilience. By refining our coping skills, recognizing setbacks quickly, and managing our stress levels, we can make the leap from surviving to thriving. I have discovered six strategies that have recently helped me improve resilience and achieve breakthroughs.
First, let’s explain the term. The dictionary provides two definitions of resilience: The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness; and the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape.
Coping with louder and growing levels of stress doesn’t come naturally. It’s a learned skill. I’ve been in the industry for 31 years, and resilience has taken me a couple of decades to learn and internalize. For example, it took me two years to leave a highly stressful, unfulfilling senior marketing position. I endured many sleepless nights, digestion problems, and a lack of focus.
After some painful self-reflection, I sought guidance from high-performing leaders who are adept at recovering quickly from failure and uncertainty—both common traits of the modern marketing landscape.
This is what they told me.
Unpack Your Inner Critic
Our inner critic has only one purpose: to foster fear and self-doubt. Inner critics are loudest when we are about to face a breakthrough or are in crisis. They borrow the lyrics from The Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden” by asking: “Am I hard enough? Am I rough enough? Am I rich enough?” They may also appear in the form of phone addiction, procrastination, self-medication, and lethargy.
Mike Hackett, founder of leadership consultancy Maigus, believes that “step one to strengthening resilience is to become aware of when your inner critic is triggered.” Hackett recalls a CEO of a global marketing firm who was struggling to control his emotions in a high-stress environment that was constantly changing. The executive worked on developing a self-awareness to realize when he was being triggered, and he also learned how to pause and step back from conflict by turning down his “fight or flight” response.
The CEO not only reduced his own stress level, but his team benefited as well. “We observed a much less volatile, conflict-ridden team environment, and a more productive leader who now thrives on change,” Hackett said.
Act Fast When Problems Arise
In experimental cultures, mistakes will happen. Agile marketing organizations recognize this. Case in point: In an attempt to win back customers that defected, the 15Five marketing team decided to reach out via email. Unfortunately, things went south. Instead of sending one automated email, 15Five mistakenly sent multiple emails to former and current customers. According to marketing communications manager David Mizne, “Some of our customers received six or seven emails in a row!”
CEO David Hassell responded immediately by sending a personalized apology email.
“It was risky to follow up multiple unwanted emails with another unwanted one,” Mizne said. “The most powerful person on our team was admitting that we made a mistake.”
Yet fessing up worked: While some people were understandably upset, the response was overwhelmingly positive.
When facing a difficult setback, I find it tempting to revert to “fight or flight” behaviors. Sometimes I isolate myself and give my inner critic free reign. Conversely, when I’m feeling resilient, I take a breath and search for the positive consequences of the setback.
Two of my favorite “go-to” questions are: What gift does this situation offer? And what lesson can I take from this?
Roman playwright, statesman, and adviser Seneca the Younger formulated stoicism as a strategy to thrive in high-stress environments back in 300 BC. He faced death, critical political negotiations, and other big challenges.
Today, stoicism is used widely by CEOs, professional athletes, and cultural creatives as a way of recognizing what they can (and cannot) truly control and how to stay strong when faced with difficult situations.
Other practices offer parallel gateways to self-awareness that invite us to observe the causes of resistance in our lives so that we can reduce suffering and separate what we can control from what we cannot.
Diversify Your Identities
What outside interests define you? What gives you joy outside of work? It is tempting to overidentify with our careers. The most effective leaders enjoy a diversified “identity portfolio.”
Jeff Perkins, CMO of Parkmobile in Atlanta, has an alter-ego: He’s a Bruce Springsteen uber-fan. “Bruce started his career in the 1960s, and he keeps finding ways to reinvent himself and his music,” Perkins said.
This outside passion has inspired Perkins in his work life.
“You have to constantly pay attention to your branding, website, and any other customer touch points to make sure they don’t look stale, and that you remain relevant to your customers,” Perkins said.
Take Stock Of Your Community
Motivational guru Jim Rohn once said: “We are the average of the five people with whom we spend the most time.”
When comparing achievements of dedicated peer group members to the lone wolf, individualistic CMOs, I have seen that the differences can be significant: Those members who are willing to be vulnerable and serve the community are rewarded with a rich set of resources and bespoke education.
Within the past year, I know of three people who landed dream jobs because they asked for help. Two others teamed to create a unique customer conference; they anticipate 7,000 attendees. None of these milestones would have been possible if they had relied on trial and error and isolated decision-making.