In this video conversation, Stephanie Freeth, founder of Adaptive Alternatives LLC, and Debra Sunderland, founder & CEO of Sunderland Coaching, muse on the idea of resilience, and what it means for leaders in our current pandemic-life circumstances.

Referencing the Gartner Report of top HR trends for 2021 as a starting point, we discuss how prioritizing efficiency can undermine resilience for leaders and their teams, and how to implement personal and team practices for a more thoughtful and resilient workplace

Listen along, or read the full transcription below!

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When Efficiency Undermines Resilience

Episode transcription:

Stephanie:Hello, Debra Sunderland, how are you doing today?
Debra:I am great Ms Stephanie, how are you?
Stephanie:I’m excited to talk to you, and just want to play around a topic that I read about last week around resilience. So you want to have a little fun?
Debra:Absolutely, love that word.
Stephanie:Okay, so here’s what I read. So I found this Gartner Report of top HR trends for 2021, and there were four that were really interesting, they were around remote work, they were around diverse groups, but the one that pulled me in was around resilience, and it made a statement that efficient organizations are actually fragile organizations, and that in order to be resilient, we need to learn how to thrive through disruption. And that really caught my attention because a lot of my life as a leader and as a consultant and as a coach, I’ve had this drive for efficiency, I’ve had this drive for effectiveness, and in the language of the Enneagram, that’s what threes do, which you and I are Enneagram type threes.
And so now I’m seeing the downside of efficiency, and how it is that efficiency can create structures that aren’t resilient, that they’re brittle, that they don’t have capacity to move and have more give and take. So just curious to hear your thoughts around what you’re seeing these days for companies, for leaders around the topic of building resilience.
Debra:I love that. What comes up for me right away is the state of efficiency. And when most people, including myself, are trying to be efficient in as much time as we have, we go on autopilot, and we just, I think, most of us just go faster and faster and faster. And we do the same thing on autopilot much of the time, and don’t really sense what we’re doing. We’re not looking at the full impact to ourselves, to those around us, we’re just, get it done and keep going. And we see everyone else doing that, so it seems like we even go faster, and it gives us the right to go faster, until boom, I crashed on my bike, or we all are at threat to this pandemic, or we know someone that is sick or has died, or there’s this big wake up, and that pause of, wait a minute, what am I doing this for?
And the purpose of it gets tied, I think, into the resiliency, and the wake up to the autopilotness of just day in and day out, and going faster and getting more done, I can see how that could be really fragile because we miss a lot of things. We miss a lot of connection to self, connection to our coworkers, connection to multiple possibilities, because we’re just down the same track, down the same track. And when that track gets wiped off, what track are we on? What are we doing? There’s no track to even get back onto sometimes. So I think resiliency is a lot about just stepping back, pausing regularly, being self-aware, noticing yourself, noticing someone else, and knowing that you’re more than just getting things done. What do you think?
Stephanie:Yeah, what’s coming up for me is, even in feeling the rush of efficiency and getting things done is a lack of space. There’s no margin, there’s no room for creative resolution, there’s just, how much stuff can I knock out back to back to back to back? And there’s only so long that we can operate like that. And then I noticed, if I’m not creating space for myself to let things emerge, that I’m brittle, I’m fragile, anything knocks me off course. And when I can either build in my meditation practice, or just create space to write, or reach out to a friend instead of that constant drive for task domination, then I can create my own resilience. But nobody’s going to create it for us.
So it makes me think about in teams, what are the types of practices that are really practical, that you’ve used based on your work, that you think teams could try and help build resilience and build that muscle? There’s a muscle around resilience to build, so what are some of the, in addition to pausing, what are some of the practices that you think could be helpful?
Debra:Yeah, so I think becoming self-aware is key, and pausing is the first way to, I mean, I think that’s the key platform. Instead of just automatically jumping out of bed, taking a pause and meditating, you brought up meditation already, making that a practice when we’re not triggered, when we’re not on that run, run, run for five minutes, 10 minutes in the morning, and practicing that during the day, meditating and coming back to your breath, and realizing that most of the time you, me, the rest of the world isn’t breathing because we’re going so fast that our lungs don’t even expand enough. Holding it all together, I think, is a huge practice that is something that I teach my teams. And then just them noticing their thoughts, because we are reacting to our thoughts, we are feeling from our thoughts, we are behaving from our thoughts, and we don’t check into the 60,000 thoughts that come in in a day.
And so learning in our meditation, when we latch on to being aware of when we’re latching on to a belief, a story, and then behaving around it, which normally we don’t. So I think that’s a huge practice, is being aware of thought, and then the outcome of self. When I believe this thought, how do I feel? When I believe this thought, then how do I behave? When I believe this thought, how do I connect to my team? How do I connect to the person? Having them support each other in doing this practice as well, teaching each other, coaching each other weekly, having a learning partners, we do that as well, on what are the outcomes that they’re getting that they don’t want, and how do they, in their way to be efficient, override their thinking, their feelings, and their behaviors and create this result they don’t want? So looking at the results all the time that they don’t want as their biggest teacher has been a huge, huge growth for many of the people I work with.
Debra:What about you?
Stephanie:Yeah, you know, we talk a lot about getting data from not just our head, but our hearts and our bodies as well, and learning to pay attention to body sensations. I love what you said about feelings, because so often when we’re in that drive for efficiency, we don’t leave room for feeling our feelings, and they seem inconvenient. And it’s actually, the more I’ve learned to feel my feelings through to completion and just ride them and let them come and go, the more I realize that it’s giving me access to data that I wouldn’t otherwise have. And a lot of times just tuning in like, hey, sadness is here, what could I let go of? Or, hey, anger’s here, what is not of service that needs to stop? And so I think resilience is about creating space for feelings too.
Debra:I love that, yes.
Stephanie:And instead of pushing them down when they come up, creating space like, okay, can I just be with this? I don’t have to fix it, can I accept that it’s here? Can I be with it? Can I let it go through? And then maybe afterwards, then can I look at, is there wisdom here to learn from? And so that to me is part of creating resilience, because when we don’t feel our feelings, we also create our own brittleness, that we get, I know I do, I get really snappy, I get impatient, I get triggered, I’m not my best self, I’m not using of the centers of intelligence that I could.
Debra:I love that you brought that out more. I agree 100% that we, in our race to get somewhere, override the intelligence, I hear you saying, of our emotions, and also harm our bodies by stuffing it down, stuffing it down, my story is, that’s why we have headaches and stomachaches, and ulcers, and even cancer, high blood pressure, because we are running faster and we just keep ignoring what our body is trying to tell us. So I so, so, so agree with you really, really wise comment on that, absolutely.
Stephanie:So I’d love to hear, you’ve worked with a ton of teams, I’d love to hear what it looks like when teams really learned to build resilience by being aware of their thoughts, by feeling their feelings. What are the different outcomes that you start to see in teams? The more they really practice this stuff?
Debra:Yeah, so one of the big ones I’ve noticed is they are more gracious to each other. They’re more compassionate, they’re more seeing them just like themselves. Because usually people don’t see each other, they’re one-upping, unconsciously, the other. And then there’s this strife or struggle out of threat. And there’s this connection that happens between them, and from that comes greater collaboration. Then they can also challenge each other in a kind, loving way. “Hey, where are you coming up with this decision from? Is this from a place of threat, or is it from curiosity? Say more about that, I want to know more.” So they tend to go deeper in their connection with each other, there tends to be more joy, because they aren’t pushing so hard. And when they’re pushing, it’s not just to get things done, but they’re pushing at each other, typically.
Stephanie:Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Debra:So now it’s like they’re learning to row in the same direction, they’re learning to collaborate and go in the same way. When people don’t express their feelings and their thoughts, which most people don’t, they withhold, people can sense it. If something’s going on with someone and you don’t say what’s going on, they’re like, “Something going on over there,” and then that builds more fear and distrust, because they’re saying something in their body, or they’re expressing it, but they’re not saying it, and so people then start to not trust each other.
So I see teams learning to trust each other more, and then the outcome is their results are more aligned with what they want to create together. So even revenue starts to shift. Because typically when people are responsible for business development, and they’re just going after everything, “Oh, let’s do this,” and throwing the spaghetti to the wall, let’s see what sticks. Taking a pause to say, what are we most excited about? Who are the clients we really want to work with? Who do we want to serve? Who do we want to really build and support? Versus, let’s just go after everyone and everything and see who we can get.
It’s a very different way of building relationships with clients, even. It’s more easeful with potential clients, and people start to listen to themselves more, they trust themselves. Like, “Hey, I don’t really have a yes to taking on this project, or I really don’t have a yes to, but this is what I do have a yes to.” And so what happens is engagement sustainability starts to expand, because people are starting to have more open conversations with each other around what excites them. And typically no one ever talked about that. We weren’t taught to do that in school or at work, so that’s been really amazing too.
I mean, it’s always a learning process. I mean, I’ve worked with some companies for years, and it’s just peel back the onion constantly around, what’s really under there, what’s really driving me? Because it is always fear, because we want to be safe. So how quickly can we notice that one in us that wants to just protect us and care about that person, that part of us, and then maybe we’d be willing to step outside, maybe not, but maybe there’s a different way to go about what we’re up to in the world, what we’re up to in our work life. And just that right there, that possibility of change is everything, just that right there.
Stephanie:I love that. During this pandemic I’ve been thinking so much about how fear is driving us, and then I was just connecting that to when you were talking about being vulnerable in communication and a way to say, “This is what’s showing up for me,” and a lot of times it’s our fear that’s keeping us from being vulnerable, but yet, if we can get over our fear a little bit to be vulnerable, what opens up is way more freeing, all these benefits you were talking about, even in terms of impacting revenue, impacting relationships, impacting how teams work. And I think you’re right, is that really seeing fear for what it is, it’s like, “Okay, fear is here, I’m just trying protect myself.” I’ve noticed how many self protective layers that I’ve built in.
And these last few weeks I’ve had so much more realization of, oh, I’m just trying to protect myself, of course I am. And can I accept that I’m doing that? And accept the one in me that’s like, “Oh, you’re just trying to protect yourself,” instead of labeling that as bad or wrong. But once I can see, I’m just trying to protect myself, it dissolves, I can move through it. It’s there, but yet I can find new space. And that gets us back to the whole thing about resilience in the first place is, fear can create contraction, and in order to build resilience in space, we’ve got to open up a bit.
Debra:I so agree. Like you said, we’ve got to be malleable, and brittle and tight as a box, tight as a drum, and we’re just going to shatter and break, or not stretch anymore because we’re like, and then what’s left, not much. So I love what you said about that. And I’ve got the change formula running through my head.
Stephanie:Mm-hmm (affirmative), yup.
Debra:Yeah, it’s like right… do you want to say what it is? That change formula?
Stephanie:Sure, so change formula is vision times dissatisfaction, dissatisfaction with the status quo, they’re multipliers, sometimes that dissatisfaction arises before the vision starts to become clear, but both become multipliers and change, plus first steps. First steps can be here are the things that we think we need to do, the tasks. And sometimes when we’re looking for change, we go straight to first steps. So that whole side of the equation, vision times dissatisfaction plus first steps, has to be greater than resistance to get change. And what resistance looks like is a lot of the things we’ve been talking about, not feeling our feelings, not being candid with one another, not taking responsibility, blaming and judging others. And the more we’re like, “Oh yeah, I’m doing that,” and that’s how resistance is showing up, then it creates more space for resilience.
Debra:Totally, totally. I love that. Thank you for sharing that. I like to think of too, I wonder what your thoughts are, I like to think of the word dissatisfaction also as discomfort.
Debra:That if we don’t allow, most people don’t allow, they have a vision, many times they have a vision of woo, I want to do this, I want to create this, or I want my team to be like this, or I want my kids to be like this, or I want my wife to be like this, whatever it is. And the part that we tend to not really allow is the dissatisfaction or the discomfort. It takes a lot of that to get us to change. And I know myself, I don’t want to be feeling uncomfortable, I don’t want to feel the dissatisfaction. So I numb myself out to that, unconsciously and consciously.
Debra:Avoid a pain in my hip, and I keep going to work out, and my body’s telling me something, because I’ve got this vision of how I want to look, or how I want to feel, but I’m ignoring this pain. But if I keep pushing through, don’t find help, then I’m never really going to get that lasting, sustainable change for my body, it might even be worse. And so I think feelings are that discomfort that people try, or dissatisfaction that they numb out. And it’s like you said earlier, a teacher, and we don’t get our learnings when we ignore that fear, when you ignore that sadness, when we ignore that frustration or anger, and they’re vital to getting to that change. So yeah, thank you for sharing that.
Stephanie:Yeah, I recently learned to reframe the discomfort and view it as fuel. And never let good discomfort go to waste because it’s here, might as well harness it as fuel, and let it feed the vision. And that’s helped me sit with the discomfort more of, oh yeah, thinking, I want to use it as fuel.
Debra:I love that, I love that, I would like you to coin that somewhere. Use your discomfort as fuel. It’s like the energy, the fuel of that, there’s energy that, I’m just making up a story, for cars. We can use fuel that’s going to help the environment, good fuel, or you can use who knows what, the stuff we have been using that isn’t so good for the environment. It’s going to move the car, but it’s like, how are we going to use that fuel that’s going to be really sustainable and helpful for ourselves and everyone.
Debra:It’s really, yeah, that’s a really good one.
Stephanie:Well, I live in the Detroit area, so we’re car makers around here. So I often, when I’m talking to clients around here, we talk about fuel for change. And actually the first part of that change formula, vision plus dissatisfaction, or discomfort, is the drive train, that’s the power of the whole equation. I liked that you went straight to cars, because I went there too. And I’m not a car geek.
Debra:[crosstalk]. You’re not a car geek? I just happened to see cars going in front of me. So what’s your experience around resilience? What have you been noticing about your clients in this time that we’re in, how are people bouncing back? How are people more than just surviving, how are they thriving? What do you see in that is the major helper for people to move in this time to resiliency and to thrive?
Stephanie:Yeah, there’s a lot of ways this could go. I think at the beginning of the pandemic I saw, I think people were in their natural default patterns. So whatever those would be, whether that’s working extra hard, or whether it’s like, “We’re just going to get it done,” they were just in that mode. But the longer this has lasted, the more they’re feeling the pain of that, and feeling like, “I can’t keep going with that.” So even though they, and me personally, may not have wanted to do things a different way, that is kind of being forced upon everyone. So it’s like resilience is happening whether we want it or not, that we reach a point where whatever we’ve been doing is not working, there’s toxic residue to it.
And so that’s when I think it’s, again, it goes back to using dissatisfaction for fuel. It’s like, well, that’s not working, so I better try something else. And giving themselves permission, I work with a lot of driven leaders who don’t feel like they’re able to take time off. I put a challenge out on LinkedIn a couple of months ago, it was like, can you just sit with your calendar open for an hour? And I had people get back to me about how they did that, and they’re like, “I felt so much discomfort that I didn’t want to do this, and I just felt like, I can’t do this, I can’t do this.”
Sometimes in our growth path, we have to do exactly the thing that we don’t want to do in order to grow. So for me, working harder is not my growth path. My growth path is stopping, it’s slowing down, it’s tuning in, it’s creating space, listening, not over-efforting. That’s where I start to have new ways of being, I’m not just stuck in my one narrow way of being, it’s part of my personality of overachieving. So I think, whether we want it or not, we’re practicing resilience. And then the more intentional we can be about it of like, oh, discomfort here, how can I use that? And giving ourselves permission to create the space we need to just be. That’s really hard for a lot of leaders.
Debra:Yes, amen to that. I love that you ask them, “Would you just leave an hour open on your calendar?” And as a three, I know you know, that is like pulling your teeth out with your string attached to the door and the door being slammed. It is painful, and that is the growth edge. That discomfort, that dissatisfaction of leaving it open, that stretch. And I know for me, that’s what I’ve been really working on the last year and a half is how do I not make everything happen? Can I just wait and ask what wants to happen through me, instead of going a mile a minute and having my hands in everything and annoying other people, I’m sure, because I’m just getting everything done, and everyone else’s stuff done.
And that, at first, was painful for me, because I felt actually a pit in my stomach. It felt really uncomfortable, I wasn’t used to that. And now after practicing it, I’ve welcomed that slow down. What wants to happen here? What am I called? What’s my whole yes in it? I mean, I don’t do that all the time, but I do it more than I used to. And I will always have that propensity to run ahead, and just like you, to pull back, and it’s that ying and yang, it’s that pull. And the ego doesn’t want to go to the unknown. It doesn’t want to stretch, because that’s scary, it wants to stay over here, and so we tend to go back there, and go back there consciously, or unconsciously. And so then we keep repeating the same thing over and over and over again, and then we wonder why we don’t get a different result.
And it is stepping into that dissatisfaction, that first step usually is coupled with a vision, time to satisfaction, plus the very next step, is usually coupled with some kind of anxiety, because it’s new. It’s a new pattern, it’s a new thinking, it’s a new feeling, it’s allowing feeling. Something is happening inside where the ego is like, “Caution, caution, stay here. Come back.”
Stephanie:Amen. If you want to really observe your ego in motion, all you have to do is say, “I’m going to give myself an hour,” and do that challenge. And then if you could be like, “Okay, I’m doing this test,” and you notice what arises, whether that’s body sensations, whether it’s thoughts, it really helps you see your ego as a character just playing out this thing. But so often we’re driven by the ego inside us that we can’t see it, we’re identified with it, it feels like us. And so I love that challenge because then you can see, that’s just a part of me, just trying to keep me safe, and if I can just let that ego have a temper tantrum like a two-year old and just watch it happen, then I can move through and get to the other side.
And then you open up what you were talking about, what wants to happen through me? What now? And I notice that when I get in that space of what now, it’s not like I don’t have access to all the preparation that I’ve done before, all the thinking, but what happens is what needs to be of service in the moment is able to emerge, versus me trying to effort it. You can have exertion without effort, kind of like a skier can go down the hill really fighting the mountain, or a skier can go down the hill feeling the bumps and moving with the flow. Not over everything like, “Oh, I got to pull myself up against finding the mountain.”
Debra:Exactly. That’s a beautiful picture of the skiing. Yeah, so in our few minutes left, Stephanie, you’ve said a lot, you’ve shared a lot about the change formula, about resilient. Maybe taking it, if you really want to stretch yourself in resilience, stretch is resilient, not stretching, not resilient, I guess. Right?
Debra:Not stretching, stating put, not too resilient. Being willing to stretch, grow, pliable. Yeah, so if you were to leave us with a challenge, maybe, you said, try it for an hour, or to do something that is uncomfortable for you, what else would you suggest or share?
Stephanie:I think it comes down to, if I can notice when I’m in the drive of efficiency, can I create space in service of creating more resilience, and view it as a game? So notice, I’m trying to get that next task done, then okay, I’m going to give myself, not a timeout, because that seemed punitive, but then I’m going to take 10 minutes to create space. Maybe I breathe, maybe I notice body sensations, maybe I journal, but it’s connecting the dots of when there’s the drive for efficiency, creating space, but knowing it’s in service of resilience, that it’s not a tax on my time, it’s an investment in resilience. I don’t know, that’s what’s here for me, how about for you?
Debra:Yeah, when you say that, I live it. Time resilience, it’s not about time, and it’s about resilience to me means energy. The more resilient, the more energy fuel is provided and is accessible, and able to be used in a way that’s of service. So I think noticing the energy level in your body, noticing, am I exhausted at the end of the day? Am I sleeping well? Am I waking up with a lot of worries and concerns about the things I didn’t do, or should do, or I got to get done tomorrow? What’s the energy fuel, how is it showing up in the body? Is it restful, or is it on one train track? One train track is the only train track, or am I open to shifting gears and going down different tracks, or going to a different state, or going to the far side of the country? And so I think just playing with it, and for me, not taking it so serious.
Debra:Have more fun around all of this, and enjoying the moments, even in the unknown and the uncertainty, because I believe resiliency requires joy, curiosity, fun to play with what’s at hand, versus getting rigid, not resilient and taking it so seriously.
Stephanie:Yeah. What’s come to mind is, be a skier that goes with the mountain versus getting on that runaway train that’s just barreling ahead down one track.
Stephanie:The contrast of those two images is what’s coming to mind.
Debra:I love that, I love that, I love that. What a great topic, and so timely for where we’re at right now. And I especially think too, now that we’re in December, we had nine months or more? I don’t even know, I’ve lost track.
Stephanie:Yeah, yeah since mid-March.
Debra:Yeah. And now it’s maybe, we’re end of year, and holiday celebration, and maybe some aren’t celebrating because of COVID, they want to say safe. But yet, how is it a time to maybe reflect and slow down, maybe taking that time of, maybe we would travel, maybe this time we don’t, but how could it be the time to just slow down and not go somewhere, but just to be with self more and reflect on, appreciate how resilient you have been over these nine months.
Stephanie:Oh, that’s crucial, is giving ourselves credit, and that we’ve gotten where we are, we’ve been through these hard times. And I agree. On these weekends where I’d like to be out at holiday parties and having fun with friends I’m like, how can I use this time for hibernation, for rest, for deepening, whether that’s connecting with my husband, connecting with my kids, reading a book, or just going inside and resting there, hibernation can serve a purpose. And we can use it, or we can fight it. And I’d rather move with it, again, skiing down that mountain versus fighting it.
Debra:Oh, so, so beautiful. It makes me think of hibernation, when you said that, it makes me think of dormancy of the trees, and many of us, I know you’re up North, it’s kind of happening a little bit in Nashville, that the trees lose their leaves. They aren’t relying on their green, what am I looking for? What’s the word? The greenhouse effect.
Debra:Thank you, their photosynthesis so much because their leaves aren’t there. But they’re sleeping, they’re resting, and they’re going deeper in their roots, because they’re not having to put out there, they’re just coming inward, and I think that’s a really beautiful picture that you had shared around that, this being still, sleeping, resting, dormant. How could that be perfect for what we’ve just come through, and preparing for spring will come, summer will come. Yeah.
Stephanie:Well, this was fun. Thank you for your thoughts, and just sharing your journey and what you’re seeing. I love getting to chat with you, so this has been a lot of fun.

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