Does Failure Define You or Feed You?

Danielle PaulsonBy Danielle Paulson

On a monthly basis, my colleagues and I take part in a “continuing education” session designed to deepen our knowledge and expertise around Four Disciplines that inform our consulting work—Neuroscience, Psychology, Business Acumen and Mindfulness. Last month we were fortunate enough to dig deeper into the study of positive psychology, specifically the concept of post-traumatic growth (PTG) and its relevance in the workplace. It might be helpful to think of PTG in terms of a continuum of reactions to failure: Post-traumatic stress is on one end of the continuum, resilience is in the middle, and post-traumatic growth is on the opposite end.

PTG takes the concept of resilience, pours gas on it and lights a match. If resilience reflects one’s ability to bounce back to his/her “pre-trauma” state, PTG points to a person’s ability to not just bounce back, but to come back in a new and improved way. In a twisted turn of fate, setbacks and failure actually turn out to serve as catalysts for opportunity, personal and professional growth, and renewed optimism. In fact, one of the world’s largest organizations, at 1.1 million employees, offers “master resilience training” to teach the skills necessary to achieve PTG; that organization is the U.S. Army.

Master Resilience Training, or MRT, easily translates to organizations and leadership development in the corporate world. MRT is divided into three parts:

  1. Building mental toughness
  2. Building signature strengths
  3. Building strong relationships

Mental Toughness

Mental toughness is based on Albert Ellis’ ABCD model—Activating Event, Belief, Consequence and Dispute. This model provides a framework for understanding how people’s deeply held beliefs strongly affect their inner voice or internal reaction to some incident or event. That inner voice informs how we handle the situation externally (this is the part everyone gets to see). The opportunity is in “D” or how we consider alternative thinking in an effort to respond differently. As a leader, take a moment to consider your deeply held beliefs about someone or something. What is the “truth” you are telling yourself that feeds into how you respond or react to the situation or person? Now, consider the possibility that your belief is mal- or misinformed. How does that change the way you think and then react? There is some genuine power in that ability to retrain your brain.

Signature Strengths

Assessing and understanding your key strengths is an integral part of leadership development. By taking the time to consider the skill and character levers we engage in order to lead and work effectively, we can intentionally use our strengths to address adversity, accelerate change and build confidence. Equally important is to build awareness around the “dark sides” of our strengths—moments when we over-function and get in our own way. Learn how to minimize the frequency and impact of those not-so-bright moments of your leadership impact.

Strong Relationships

This portion of MRT boils down to positive communication, which is strongly correlated to one’s ability to influence, give feedback and lead a team—absolutely vital skills for any leader. MRT focuses on effective praise (being attuned to specific praise and recognition versus “good job!”) and assertive versus passive or aggressive communication as the core elements of fostering strong relationships with peers, bosses and direct reports.

Whether a member of an army or a 10-person nonprofit organization, it’s essential for all leaders to enhance mental toughness, know their strengths and dark sides, and nurture strong relationships. Engaged in a systematic way, these skills have the potential to help CEOs and senior leaders transform their organizations into powerhouses of opportunity—where industry and organizational setbacks have employees asking, “what’s the opportunity?” instead of scratching their heads asking, “what happened?”