Resilience training – bleeding heart soft or army tough?

I was reading an article that HBR does on leadership lessons from the armed forces and came across this blog on Resilience Training in the U.S. Army. Resilience, optimism and positivity are inter-related and I have personally sponsored such training in the business unit I used to run. Of course hard-nosed commercial business people (they love to describe themselves as that) were questioning such “soft” training. It is a pleasure to see that in the world of armed forces the value of this training is recognised. The HBR blog is replicated below and is worth a read along with Martin Seligman’s book – Learned Optimism.

“I want to be resilient” is a statement I hear a lot lately from fellow soldiers and friends working in the private sector. It makes sense.

While we in the U.S. Army have witnessed steady increases in divorce, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and — most unfortunately — suicide, the vast majority of us serving are strengthened by — and frankly better because of — our experiences of serving in an organization at war for nearly a decade. We grow as leaders and fight on.

People in business have fought battles of a different sort: a weak economy characterized by joblessness, malaise, cynicism, and a general lack of trust has left many bruised and gun-shy. But from Wall Street to Main Street, successful executives dust themselves off and keep moving. They grow as leaders and fight on.

It’s not hard to see why we should be resilient. The challenge is to understand how to become resilient.

Below I briefly describe the Army’s approach, dubbed Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, and draw parallels to the private sector. First, a few key points about our general approach:

Depending on whose research you read, resilience is either a trait (something that is fairly stable over time and rather difficult to develop, similar to personality) or a state (something that one can develop). We believe it is both. That is, some people are more likely to be resilient due to their personality, but most people can become more resilient over time if they employ the skills we teach.

Resilience training is not a medical treatment led at the organizational level by MDs or Ph.Ds. Rather, as with all training in the Army, it is seen as leadership development and taught by soldiers. More on this later.

At its core, resilience training best succeeds by tapping into what many psychologists think of as the Holy Grail: metacognition, or getting people to think about their thinking. If we can encourage soldiers to challenge how and why they think a certain way, then the skills we teach are more likely to take root.

Like any leadership development, learning resilience is a lifelong process: everyone can improve if they put in the work; no one is ever finished. This is why our program is command-directed, meaning that every soldier in the Army, from newest Private to oldest General, takes resilience training.

October 1 marked the first anniversary of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness. More than 850,000 soldiers have taken the Global Assessment Tool (GAT), a 105-item questionnaire used to measure resilience in four dimensions: family, social, spiritual, and emotional fitness. Scores are confidential; soldiers may voluntarily share them but they cannot be compelled to do so. After completing the GAT, soldiers take a series of online training modules that teach initial resilience skills (e.g., how to develop a strong social network, find greater meaning in work, strengthen spousal relationships, etc.).

The program doesn’t stop there. Given the Army’s size — more than 1.1 million people in uniform — we recognized a need for a cadre of resilience trainers embedded within units. Therefore, we established the 10-day Master Resilience Trainer Course (MRT) for selected sergeants and junior officers. The intent is for these leaders to return to their units and train their soldiers on what they learned. For reinforcement, the Army Chief of Staff directed that units have a minimum of one-to-two hours of resilience training monthly. Last, beginning in 2011, resilience training will be offered at every level of the Army’s education system, so it begins when a Private arrives at basic training and continues through the senior leader capstone course one takes after becoming a Brigadier General.

So, what resilience skills do we teach in the Army? The short answer is that we train the basics, or the resilience “immutables,” and it is not hard to how this might translate to civilian organizations. Specifically, CSF teaches soldiers:

To identify and leverage their own strengths and the strengths of others to overcome challenges. People are on a team for a reason, so figure out why and let them use their potential to accomplish the mission.

To keep things in the proper perspective. When facing crisis or conflict, identify the best, worst, and most likely scenarios; know what you can and cannot control; and prepare yourself to move past the event.

To recognize the positive outcomes of every event, even the negative ones. Research tells us that focusing on the negative is natural as it is part of our survival mechanism. Perhaps that’s true, but what did you learn? How did your grow as a person? What are you going to do to prepare yourself for the next event?

To reframe the negative energy around them. Research has shown that negativity can be pervasive and contagious, and it can stifle performance. People must recognize the outside influences affecting them and reframe them towards an advantage.

To build strong relationships. Friends, family and colleagues help people facing adversity to be resilient. In other words, your social network is your safety net, so strengthen and nurture it.

To understand that leaders make meaning for followers. In times of trouble, subordinates will look to you for guidance. Help them to understand the problem; know that a plan exists to address it; and know that they are part of the solution.

For more information about Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, visit:
Captain Paul B. Lester, Ph.D, is a research psychologist in the U.S. Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Office.

Copyright © 2010 Harvard Business School Publishing. All rights reserved. Harvard Business Publishing is an affiliate of Harvard Business School.


About Curious and Interested

Former Leader and Manager now writer and coach. Enquiring, Curious, Buys more books than can ever read but still reads a lot. A sucker for gadgets...Ipad, Kindle, Chromecast, apple watch. I aim to improve understanding and cause reflection. Not claiming to be the expert.
This entry was posted in Behaviour, Happiness, Leadership, Optimism, Positivity, Resilience, Skills. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Resilience training – bleeding heart soft or army tough?

  1. Pingback: Resilience – What we can learn from the military « Scott's Blog – The trU Group

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