I’ve got to thinking that we may be missing a trick in the way we develop resilience in employees. It took me 2725 miles for me to have this epiphany, but I think I’m onto something. Here’s how it came about. I was participating in the Tour Divide. This self supported mountain bike race goes between the border of the USA and Mexico and Banff in Canada (or vice versa) along the line of the Continental Divide. It’s 2750 miles of wild open spaces, epic climbs and stunning scenery. What I was hoping to be a delightful adventure race in the wilderness ended up being an exercise in survival. Intense heat on day 1 threatened to end the ride with heat exhaustion. Then, after about 1000 miles, a strained thigh muscle meant pedalling was acutely painful. The change in riding position to cope with the pain resulted in red raw saddle sores that were deeply uncomfortable. The saddle sores meant the only way I could get the power down was to ride standing up out of the saddle. I had to do this for a little over 250 miles into a stiff headwind across wide open plains. Next a gear failure meant over a hundred miles of riding in the biggest gear I had through the Yellowstone National Park and into Idaho. A further two days were spent trapped in the easiest gear, where progress on the flat was possible only by scooting the bike along with one foot in the pedal and the other pushing off the ground to maintain momentum. I spent a total of 350 in one wrong gear. Next up was a terminal failure of two parts of the bike necessitating a replacement bike. By this point I was about 2000 miles into the race. The race was not yet done with me, over the next two days I broke two teeth. First one on the right side of the mouth and then a second on the other side of the mouth. This made chewing food difficult. Finally, the riding position of the replacement bike caused nerve damage in my hands resulting in a loss of grip and numbness. I struggled to control the bike on very rough ground. All of this was aside from days of relentless rain riding through sticky mud, sleep deprivation and encounters with much wildlife including 7 bears, two of which were uncomfortably close. Many times I was close to tears wondering just what else this race was to throw at me. I managed to make it to the end and somewhat surprisingly given the problems as the first Northbound rider.
Since completing the ride, I have spent considerable time pondering what kept me going in spite of the many problems I experienced. The conclusion I have reached is not that I am blessed with some extreme level of resilience but rather it was the strength of the dream I had. I spent two years preparing for this event. As time went on my obsession grew and almost every waking moment was spent thinking about it. I would find myself in the middle of a piece of work daydreaming about the race rather than the job in hand. I had lived almost every moment of the ride even before I turned the first pedal stroke. I had arrived in Banff so many times in my mind that when I finally did arrive at the trailhead it felt like a familiar place. Whilst training indoors at home in my imagination I had wondered the shopping aisles of countless grocery stores along the way buying the food I would need; I had lived the routine of packing my bivvy, cleaning my teeth, oiling my chain, checking my bike over, loading the next route file onto my GPS before heading off into the sunrise. The desire to complete the ride had become this aching ambition.
In contrast, just the other day I saw a green tea advert. A women awoke, dressed in her running kit, stretched, warmed up and opened her door only to be confronted with a rainy day. Rather than head out, she puts the kettle on and has a cup of tea. Whatever the goal motivating her to run was insufficient to overcome a bit of rain. My simple epiphany was that the stronger the goal, the greater the resilience to overcome the hurdles preventing success.
Let’s translate this into business. Managers and subordinates set goals to be achieved over the following months. Time is spent thinking about what that goal should be but how much time is spent dreaming about the goal and what it could mean for everyone involved? I would suspect in most instances – almost no time. Why then should we be surprised when, in the face of adversity people struggle to achieve the targets set? How much more challenging goal could be set for people if sufficient time was spent allowing people to dream about what achieving that goal could mean for them. It might be the ability to buy a beautiful sports car with the bonus earned, or standing on the stage at the annual conference as the recipient of a CEO award, or the opportunity to be considered the industry expert. Whatever the dream might be, the stronger the sense of what it means in all its glorious detail may turn out to be an incredibly powerful way of developing employee resilience. Perhaps instead of helping people manage stress we should help them grow their dream.
Dominic Irvine Copyright 2018. All rights asserted.