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The Power of Positive Psychology and Coaching: Developing resilient leadership

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“One of the most fulfilling things we (BetterUp) get to do is be a broker and an exchange of thought leadership and practice.”  - Alexi Robichaux, CEO and Co-Founder of BetterUp

As a mission-driven company, we are privileged to partner with courageous leaders and organizations that put people first and therefore have an outsized impact on the market and world.

In the second episode of our three-part webinar series delivered in partnership with Josh Bersin Academy, Jesse Sostrin, Global Head of Executive Development at and Professional Certified Coach (PCC), shared insights concerning how to tap into the power of positive psychology and how to develop resilience among your leaders with coaching.

To hear the entire the conversation between Global HR Industry Analyst, Josh Bersin, one of the founding fathers of Positive Psychology, Dr. Martin Seligman, Alexi Robichaux, and Jesse, please access the on-demand session here.

Q: In these times, we are looking to leaders to build and demonstrate resilience for their teams. Jesse, in your experience, what do leaders often get wrong about resilience?

“As Josh Bersin pointed out, ‘Resilience has gone mainstream. It’s literally in the news and everywhere … it’s among the most essential leadership skills.’ However, what I’m seeing is that, for many leaders, resilience is just another form of armor they feel obligated to put on. But it’s NOT a hopeful layer of defense to shield yourself from a threat; it’s the forward-leaning confidence and ability to recognize and adapt to the unfavorable circumstance at hand. What many leaders mistakenly call resilience is actually self-preservation. This mixup can have unintended consequences.” 

Q: What are those consequences and the impact?

"What do we feel when under attack? The typical response is to armor up and fight. But here’s the problem: when adversity is taken personally, we waste energy on anxiety and catastrophic thinking takes over."

"As Dr. Seligman found through decades of research with the U.S. Army, it’s the catastrophizers who are much more likely to show up with burnout, depression, and PTSD, and not be resilient. In fact, the data shows if you were both a catastrophic thinker and in severely adverse conditions, you were 375% more likely to suffer PTSD."

"We know from psychological and neurological research that the body doesn’t differentiate between the real or imagined threats. So perceived threats trigger the same physiological reactions of fight, flight, or freeze: heart rate increases, muscles contract, blood pressure rises, and vision narrows. "

"The amount of stress and anxiety people and leaders are experiencing right now is extreme, which means any ineffective response to adversity can accumulate these physical, psychological, and emotional challenges. This makes it even more important for leaders to identify and leverage evidence-based methods—like coaching—to support themselves and their teams."

Q: Jesse, in addition to being an accomplished leadership development specialist, you are also a professional coach. How do you help leaders understand what resilience really is and how they can demonstrate it?

"The value of coaching is that it can quickly get to the habits of mind and behavior that are so powerful in shaping experience. To unlock the true benefits of resilience, I think it’s important to start with a crucial mindset shift."

"As a coach, I try to help people see adversity as a neutral thing and not a personal affront. That’s easier said than done because the literal meaning of adversity is anchored in the perception things have unfavorably turned against you. This personalization triggers an inherent hostility and the result can be a confrontational orientation of me versus it. Leaders besieged by the constant change, rising ambiguity, and intensifying complexity of a turbulent business might understandably adopt this adversarial stance."

"However, turning the unwanted circumstance into just another neutral ‘object’ you can look at—even play with—disarms you and stops the vicious cycle from taking its toll. It’s not ‘What’s happening to me?’ It’s ‘What’s happening around me, what do I need to learn from it, and what do I choose to do about it?’"

"Working with a coach to explore these inner attitudes and assumptions can accelerate this healthy mindset shift. Changing your outlook in this important way can simultaneously boost resilience and reduce the unnecessary toll that exhausting self-preservation routines takes on you."

Q: You have taken a data-driven approach to coaching and development at Salesforce. How are you measuring the impact and what drivers are of particular interest or focus to you?

"Evidence-based approaches, such as coaching, are essential to measure value, which is the heart of our relevance. Building data-collection measures across each stage of an endeavor gives us the best chance to marry the qualitative and quantitative measures that can tell the full story of impact."

"For example, one of the things BetterUp is doing extremely well, and from which we’ve benefitted, is the ongoing pulse survey. Rather than waiting until the end of a coaching engagement to find out how it’s going, the micro customizations in the pulse survey approach can spot strengths to build upon and gaps to close in real-time."

"The ability to proactively and consistently collect a blend of both quantitative and qualitative data is crucial because it’s the smart mix of things that allows us to actually have an accurate sense of what’s really going on’ for our leaders and in the organization. We need to be able to adjust to the realities that are changing so fast around us. If you can leverage data to anticipate talent trends, then you can speak the language of the business. The predictive element is the game changer to me."

"The science that underpins BetterUp’s solution, coupled with the ability to collect and analyze data across a large group of people participating in coaching, is part of how we keep our finger on the pulse of a whole talent ecosystem. The information, data, and insights we have at our fingertips demonstrate how adaptability and resilience might need to evolve over time, which helps us calibrate the coaching."

For business leaders, the ability to track, proactively identify, and build the talent needed for the future is a competitive advantage. Those organizations that have been able to predict the need to develop leadership resilience are far ahead of the curve today, as we saw in the data in Episode 1 of this series.

Q: Why is it so important at this moment in history to cultivate resilience in ourselves and our organizations?

"The convergence of major health, economic, and societal challenges is forcing a reckoning of integrity at every level. Resilience is crucial because it can flexibly support the intrapersonal, interpersonal, and systemic response to adversity."

"Most of us think of resilience at the individual level, however, there are other lenses:"

Systemic resilience (e.g., what pervades your organization’s structure and culture) probes the integrity gap between what’s said and what is. In other words, Are we who we thought we were as a culture, an organization, or team? 

Relational resilience is the reckoning of integrity in your connections with people. In other words, How well will this relationship stand up against the challenge? 

Personal resilience is your individual capacity to live with the feelings of uncertainty, imperfection, and insecurity that flare up when adversity lands. In other words, Who do I want to be after this, and therefore, who do I need to be going through it?

"Resilience is the great enabler, and like other constellation capabilities, it activates related skills and produces a range of compounding effects. At each of these three levels, more resilience leads to clearer thinking, better decision-making, increased engagement, more sustainable well-being, and better results. And, of course, the absence of resilience at any level triggers compounding effects in the negative."

"We have a unique opportunity in this moment to transform ourselves, others, and our organizations. What’s happening in society is demanding an even more human moment and resilience can be a humanizing lens to work through the challenges we face."

To listen to the entire conversation and gain additional insights from Episode 2, please access the on-demand session here. You can also hear more from Jesse Sostrin in his Salesforce blog entitled, “Stop Taking Adversity So Personally.”

Learn more about the transformational impact of coaching here.

At BetterUp, we’re excited to partner with organizations like, Biogen, NetApp and Mars that are committed to enabling employees to thrive in the face of adversity.  Hear how they are leading the way, register here to watch all three episodes on resilience.