A leader’s role in building workplace resilience

I spent a fruitful Saturday morning last week, at my CIPD branch event – where a surprisingly large number of us came together to look at workplace resilience from Michele Grant of Rising minds.

After my initial surprise – and clearly that of the organisers – that almost 100 people turned up on a sunny Saturday in the Chilterns – the session went really well.

A mindful exercise

Michele drew on work from Daniel Goleman, well known for his writing on emotional intelligence and asked us to do a mindful exercise looking at a recent difficulty, what feelings it evoked in us, what thoughts we had about ourselves and locating the feelings in the body. We put the exercise away – and interestingly returned to it later…

Resilience awareness

Michele talked eloquently of David Rock’s work on what can hinder our resilience at work, what our individual triggers may be and how they might trip us into an unconscious, less helpful response. Clearly day to day we need to manage many things unconsciously, but as leaders, other interactions in organisations need to be managed more mindfully and therefore more skilfully.

David Rock developed the SCARF model, as a way to look at what reduces our resilience in the workplace. The acronym refers to individual triggers of certain types:

Status – our perceived importance in relation to others

Certainty – the extent to which we can be sure of what will happen or how we deal with ambiguity

Autonomy – to what extent we have a sense of control over others

Relatedness – the extent to which we feel a sense of belonging, team or safety with others

Fairness – our perception of what is reasonable between people

While this model is a useful tool to look at motivators at work, it can also enhance our sense of self and improve our ability to relate to others, especially when under pressure.

The work on resilience described by Michele encourages us to become more mindful, in the moment, to slow down as managers and to fully notice our responses. Any one of these motivators can also act as triggers, leading us to react rather than respond.

Fast and slow thinking

This also chimes with the work of Daniel Kahnemann on thinking fast and thinking slow. His books sell well at the moment in stations and airports –perhaps in an attempt to capture people while travelling, to prompt them to pause and think about what is done naturally, and quite rightly on automatic pilot – “fast” thinking, and then what needs to be done in a slower and more reflective mode.

We returned to our exercise and after some mindful reflection on the difficulty we had identified, looked again at the feelings it evoked, the thoughts it created about ourselves and our emotional response. I certainly saw my difficulty in a spacious and more generous way and as a result it seemed to be more of an interesting event than a slightly distressing issue.


This all caused me to reflect on when we run action learning sets in the workplace. By encouraging participants to slow down and reflect on the open questions they receive from the set, people consider an issue in a deeper way than they have previously had the space to.

This supports leaders in identifying when they make unconscious motivations and responses and pausing long enough to consider alternative, more conscious ways of interacting. This experience in itself is empowering, as participants go through a thought process that is solution focused, thus building resilience.

The individual exercise we did on that busy Saturday morning was a similar experience for me as being in an action learning set. It is encouraging to see so much recognition now of the value of mindful responses in the workplace and as leaders. A Saturday morning well spent indoors despite the rare sunshine!


Watch our webinar Resilience in the workplace – an undervalued asset? By our Associate Dr Jeremy Cross.

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