“Ouch, that hurts!” I was mountain biking last weekend with my brothers and a co-worker and I crashed. It caught me by surprise. We were working hard, making progress, having fun, and suddenly, I was on my back – a little bloody but no worse for the wear. I picked up my bike, brushed the dirt off my body, smiled a bit, and continued down the trail. Sounds like leading change.
You can count on obstacles, and even a crash or two, when leading change. Being resilient and getting back on track can help determine the future of the change effort and your success as a leader. Last week I was participating in the Academic and Student Affairs Leadership Conference for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. While there we received notice that two of our major stakeholder groups are stepping away from our Charting the Future work. It was an emotional blow that requires leaders to get back up and keep moving forward. Psychologists call that resiliency, the ability to adapt and bounce back when things don’t go as planned.
At the conference, I listened to our leaders describe the challenges they experience having to repeatedly get back up and keep moving forward. Their experiences reflect what neuropsychologist Rick Hanson describes in his book Hardwiring Happiness. Our brains act like velcro for bad news and teflon for good news. We absorb the crashes, ignore the victories and deplete our resiliency. Luckily new research has confirmed the concept of neuroplasticity. Our experiences literally can change our brains. We can develop our resiliency using a four step process Hanson describes as “the deliberate internalization of positive experiences in implicit memory,” or HEAL:
- Have a positive experience – notice one or create one for yourself
- Enrich it – recognize it and stay with it for a moment
- Absorb it – really recognize it and let it sink in
- Link positive and negative material – acknowledge something negative in the background and notice it isn’t overwhelming the positive
Developing your resiliency can help you be prepared for and respond to the crashes you will encounter leading change. Yes, the bruises I get riding can hurt, but the memories of trails and friends help me get back on the bike.