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Fostering Resilience: Helping Leaders Arrive and Thrive

Fostering Resilience: Helping Leaders Arrive and Thrive

Practice #4: Fostering Resilience

Learn more about the 7 Impactful Practices.

By Dr. Lynn Perry Wooten, President, Simmons University

Resilience is a familiar concept to many leaders, especially women who often overcome a variety of obstacles on their leadership journeys. To arrive and thrive at the top requires resilience – the ability to recover from difficult events. During the past two years, we have had numerous opportunities (perhaps more than any of us would wish for) to demonstrate our resilience. The global pandemic, a major social and racial reckoning, and threats to democracy at home and abroad have forced all of us to dig deep and tap into our resiliency reserves.

Susan MacKenty Brady (left), Dr. Lynn Perry Wooten (center), and Janet Foutty (right)

In this increasingly uncertain world, leaders have more opportunities to not only showcase resilience, but to foster its growth at an individual, team, and organizational level. Fostering resilience is the capacity to not only weather adversity, but to actively anticipate and prepare for challenges, and to embrace the steps that will allow leaders to emerge from these events even stronger.

Building and fostering resilience is a continual cycle that features four key steps: fear, pausing, listening/learning, and growth. I have experienced each of these as president of Simmons University, a higher education institution whose mission is to educate and empower the next generation of leaders.

I became the ninth president of Simmons in July 2020 during the middle of a global pandemic. Immediately we were faced with a wave of decisions that needed to be made, including a major choice about learning modality for that upcoming academic year. Was Simmons going to bring students, faculty, and staff back to campus during a global pandemic, or transition to online education for the year? It was a major decision, and a daunting one with many implications.

At this moment I recognized the first step in the resiliency cycle: fear. Rather than run from it, I acknowledged the emotion. I encourage leaders to embrace this initial period of anxiety that accompanies a new challenge. As Coretta Scott King once said, “When fear rushed in, I learned how to hear my heart racing but refused to allow my feelings to sway me.”

Fear makes step two especially important: taking a moment to pause. Leaders at every level can benefit from stopping to reflect. Not only does this help us transition from the reality we expected to the new circumstances we face, it provides an opportunity for us to re-energize.

Then a period of listening and learning can begin, as individuals engage in scenario planning, seek out different perspectives, and acquire knowledge. Throughout this pandemic, the Simmons COVID-19 Recovery Task Force and senior leadership team met to discuss challenges and to strategize possible solutions. We created a set of guiding principles and ultimately decided that a virtual experience was our best strategy to ensure the safety of our community and to create a high-quality learning experience for students during the 2020-2021 academic year.

This process led to the final step in the resiliency cycle: growth, or as Oprah says, turning our “wounds into wisdom.” Utilizing the knowledge, resources, and skills we gained, Simmons became more creative and innovative through the launch of a new fully online undergraduate program for adult learners, CompleteDegree@Simmons. This program builds on the history and core mission of our University, and makes a Simmons education more accessible to a key undeserved population – women who have had their educations interrupted.

At its heart, fostering resilience is the willingness to turn a crisis or challenge into an opportunity. This practice allows us to boost our own well-being while helping others along the way. By fostering resilience, we grow and unlock new opportunities at the individual, team, and organizational levels.

Next up:

Please join our author trio as we celebrate the official book launch at the Simmons Leadership Conference, “Cultivating Courage & Connection” featuring Simone Biles, Amanda Gorman, and Brené Brown. April 13.

This article was previously published on LinkedIn on March 3, 2022, as part of a LinkedIn series in conjunction with Simmons University’s Susan MacKenty Brady and Deloitte’s Janet Foutty highlighting essential practices for thriving in leadership. It is based on our upcoming book Arrive and Thrive, 7 Impactful Practices for Women Navigating Leadership. Pre-order your book today. Stay tuned!