I have studied the human mind for over 40 years. My focus as a psychologist has often been mental illness and its treatment. But for the last 20 years more and more of my time has been spent studying something I shall call RESILIENCE. Resilience is the ability to bounce back in the wake of challenges, adversity, and often withering stress. My investigations led me to study CPAs, athletes, the military, trauma survivors, and US Navy SEALs. I was fascinated with the quest to understand how some people were able to rebound after catastrophic failure, injury, or loss. The answer soon became clear. The most powerful factor that promotes human resilience is a sense of connectedness to us.
While conducting a focus group with US Navy SEALs I was impressed with how these extraordinary warriors seemed to gain an identity from a sense of connectedness. They saw themselves as being a part of something far greater than themselves, and they drew strength from that connectedness.
The power of connectedness is not unique to Navy SEALs. It resides in many places. In sports teams, in colleges, and yes even in businesses. Organizations that foster a climate of connectedness, pride, and mutual support appear to be the leaders in their respective industries. The Institute of Medicine recently released a report wherein they identified connectedness as a factor in promoting a ready and resilient workforce. They further indicated that resilient leadership could be an important factor in building connectedness and organizational resilience.
How do we teach managers to become resilient leaders and promote connectedness? The answer resides in creating organizational values of support, open communications, and integrity. But the key appears to be whenever possible reminding people they are part of a team, a network of mutual support and shared identity. There really isn’t any “I” in “TEAM.” If we embrace the notion of connectedness, it permeates all aspects of our lives.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, but this decision, I think I got right. Although this event took place when my son was 17, it was not revealed to him until one night at a family dinner many years later. I had been working in a country that had been ravaged by war. My efforts lasted many years and I had made many friends in the government and in the royal family that ruled the country. On one particular trip, I was finishing my work in the first week in April. I received a message that in recognition of my work I was going to meet with the “king” of the country to be formally thanked for my efforts. This was quite an honor. At the last moment, I was told that our meeting would need to be rescheduled as a conflict had arisen. The ceremony was now scheduled for a day I was supposed to be back in the United States. For 5 or 6 years in a row, my father, my son, and I had a ritual of going to Opening Day for the Baltimore Orioles. It just so happened that the ceremony with “His Highness” was scheduled for that same day. The challenge for me was determining what was most important. It took me only 3 seconds to realize that I needed pass up the professional opportunity of a lifetime to be with my son and my father. I realized I really was part of something greater than myself. In this case it was my family. As politely as I could, I turned down the remarkable honor that had been offered. The shock on the royal representative’s face was a sight behold. He could not believe I was turning down the invitation. Yet to me it was more important to practice what I preach. It was more important to continue to solidify the bonds of family connectedness rather than take advantage of a personally rewarding opportunity. Our legacies in life reside in those lives we touch. While I’m sure my work in that country will be remembered favorably for years to come, my family’s values of connectedness will live for generations.
I mentioned the situation to no one. Opening Day arrived and my father and I drove to my son’s school to pick him up to go to the ballpark. My son met us and with disappointment on his face and said that he had a baseball game that day as well. He played for Severn School, a small private school in Anne Arundel County, Maryland where we lived. His coach said that he could not miss his team’s opening day. My son had worked hard to earn a starting position at second base. Well, my father, my son, and I attended opening day on that April afternoon. It was not watching the Baltimore Orioles, though. My father and I watched the Severn Admirals open the beginning of what would be their championship season. I have not had one moment of regret for my decision to return home for opening day because my value to be remain loyal to my work and frankly my “professional self” seemed insignificant in comparison to the loyalty I felt to my father and my son. I felt no need to share this story with anyone until one evening, a decade later, when all my children were gathered with me for dinner. The conversation came to family values and the importance of staying connected which I have been known upon occasion to “preach.” Having heard me tell the story, my oldest daughter looked up with a tear in her eye and said, “Daddy, that’s the nicest story I’ve ever heard.” Maybe a message was heard, perhaps a lesson learned, that night. Only time will tell.
© 2015 George S. Everly Jr., Ph.D., co-author of Stronger: Develop the Resilience You Need to Succeed
George S. Everly Jr., Ph.D., ABBP, FAPM, co-author of STRONGER: Develop the Resilience You Need to Succeed (AMACOM, 2015), is one of the founding fathers of modern stress management and a pioneer in the field of human resilience. Dr. Everly is Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Professor of Psychology at Loyola University Maryland. He has consulted with FEMA, ATF, US Federal Air Marshals, and the FBI National Academy. He lives in Severna Park, Maryland. For more information, please visit http://www.amacombooks.org