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Welcome to the Da Vinci Institute: School of Business Leadership

Creating a Climate for Resilience

The Da Vinci Institute’s faculty member, Philip De Kock shares his thoughts on creating a climate for resilience: Based on the Research of David Coyle, Author of “The Culture Code”…

The need for resilience:

With huge disruptions at an individual, business, and even societal level, the question of how to be resilient is currently on everyone’s lips. Further, what are those critical skills we need, to develop and sustain resilience? To address this question, the following notions emerge: There is a need to create the right psychological climate for resilience; additionally, to develop the skills related to active listening and engaging with people in a constructive fashion, thereby building and sustaining healthy productive relationships.

This blog considers the development of a psychological climate for resilience, mainly because it is one of the central challenges for leaders at all levels of business. Research shows that resilience is enhanced when leaders create a climate, hopefully in the long-term a culture, that is conducive to building effective, productive, and mutually beneficial engagements. Subsequently, this may lead to a significant difference by a leader.

Kindergarten Kids Come out Tops!

Research conducted by David Coyle, in his book titled: The Culture Code, renders evidence that kindergarten kids consistently outperform executive groups with basic problem-solving tasks. Coyle suggests that for a single reason, kids do not consider status roles when embarking on their assignments. Adults, on the other hand, tend to recruit and promote for intelligence and competence, but do not nurture these through a conducive psychological climate and culture.

When it comes to psychological climate and culture, the same dynamic – as with the problem-solving games – comes into play when dealing with challenges, decisions, conflicts, and consensus, according to Coyle. But how? While Coyle’s evidence is quite compelling, the question remains: How do you establish and maintain this psychological climate? The research of Coyle provides the following useful insights  to address the question (specifically for change leaders, advocates, and agents):

  • Avoid status management
  • Connect people around you with a vision – the story of your purpose
  • Crystalise priorities in terms of moving towards this vision
  • Create belonging cues for those you want to take with you.

Let us deal with this in a more detailed fashion.

Status Management:

In a general sense but very specific, given the challenges of the new workplace environment exacerbated by the COVID 19 pandemic, status management is critical. Here Coyle emphasises the following: Keeping people in a rigid role hierarchy detracts from performance and delivery; while people need to be clear about the direction of the business, the approach and task at hand, an open exchange of ideas and contributions should be encouraged actively; often proposals or reports get changed, just to position it correctly for a Vice President or Senior Vice President, with the consequent loss of traction and increase in complexity.

Connection to the Vision or Desired End State:

Connecting to a vision or a desired end state is almost engrained into the narrative of modern leadership. Few are however successful because it is not made accessible through story telling. When people are able to visualise an end state, they are able to feel a sense of ownership for the journey, and subsequent success it generates – stimulating positive emotions that aid resilience.

Crystalising Priorities:

Related to the above (connection to the vision) is the need to make sure that priorities are crystal clear. When everyone is familiar with what the priorities are, the need for status management becomes unimportant, and a sense of belonging increases, just as focus on the task at hand is simultaneously enhanced. Perhaps consider a military special ops teams, they are so highly skilled and clear about their priorities. They tend to operate in the moment and status is usually left in the background. In these environments, the leader is present and available, but the team operates as a unit.

Creating Belonging Cues:

Together with status management, the creation of belonging cues forms as the basis of creating the psychological climate for resilience. Let us consider the following important aspects to this: The creation of spaces where openness and total honesty are rewarded during and after discussions; cultivating an environment where people (specifically leaders) have empathy and are not scared to be vulnerable because when leaders show vulnerability, they are considered authentic and trustworthy individuals.

In Conclusion, a quote by David Coyle is apt: “In short, do everything to erase the little voice in people asking, do I belong here, and where do I fit in, and is it emotionally safe for me?”