When I began to offer Pause II Power workshops for resiliency and self-mastery, I noticed that most people had a very narrow definition of resiliency. To them resiliency was the “ability to bounce back” after a challenge or setback. To me resiliency means that, and much more. It means self regulation in the presence of a threat or uncertainty. Resiliency requires more than just courage, it requires an infrastructure; a positive, growth mindset, and an ability to find equanimity—that feeling of calm in the midst of chaos—allowing us to quell the brain’s automatic, reflexive threat response.
The human brain has a negative bias, a tendency to err on the side of fear, a tendency to turn the unknown into the “worst case scenario.” If we let our brain fly on automatic pilot, it makes it difficult for us to turn lemons into lemonade. Yet, resiliency is more than just putting a positive spin on a situation, and adding sugar to a bitter brew; it’s a practice that begins with a high level of awareness around our triggers and hot buttons and the stories we tell ourselves in the grip of fear or uncertainty. Most of all it’s about creating a safe space in which to be curious and open to solutions and responses that are out of reach when we are in the grip of the threat response. I invite leaders I coach to find ways to make their team “feel safe on your roller coaster.” Otherwise, you won’t get the best out of them.
A good real life example of this kind of leadership can be found in the NetFlix documentary series titled “The Horn” about the incredibly brave and resilient men and women who staff Air Zermatt, a helicopter service that rescues injured extreme athletes and climbers from the icy peaks and glaciers of Switzerland’s famed Matterhorn, and the surrounding mountains and glaciers. CEO Gerold and his team are called on to execute the most challenging rescues and save lives every day. Rapelling down 100 meters into a glacier crevasse is not for the feint of heart, particularly when the person you are “rescuing” took his last breath well before you arrived.
After a few episodes, I realized that bravery was only a small part of the mix of what makes these pilots and rescuers so resilient. Also present were people who really respected the specialized talents of the other, consistently honored the team’s shared values of life, achievement, challenge, and had total trust in their fellow pilots, rescuers, doctors, and the crack team of mechanics and medics who insured that the helicopters were in top condition and loaded with the supplies to face any situation with extreme confidence. Safety was honored and assured. Everyone in the Air Zermatt team was quick to credit their success to the culture that had been fostered there; a culture that supported emotional self-regulation, trust, camaraderie, healthy living, safety, and a sense of being a part of something much bigger than themselves as individuals. It was clear that all the staff members were proud to be part of the team and hyper aware of their individual contribution to the shared success of Air Zermatt.
The Air Zermatt team showed me how important trust, mutual respect, shared values, and safety is to building high performing teams. What was noteworthy was what I didn’t see as I watched this show: ridicule, blame, or unreasonable demands or expectations. No one asked anyone to do what they wouldn’t be willing to do themselves. And when things didn’t go as planned, no one pointed a finger.