Using Personal Resilience to Build Organizational Resilience

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By Rand O’Leary

Over the past 18 months, we’ve seen burnout strike healthcare professionals and leaders at levels previously unseen.  Colleagues are retiring, dedicated providers are leaving, and countless others across the country are taking time away for stress and mental health renewal.   

Yet every day I see reason for hope and optimism as my healthcare colleagues come together to care, continuing to give their best to our patients and each other.  They have embodied Maya Angelou’s words:  “I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it.” 

Resilience—both organizationally and personally—has been the key for those who are working day-in and day-out to navigate providing quality care to our communities in the midst of a pandemic. 

Organizational Resilience 

Organizational resilience is the ability of an organization to anticipate, prepare for, respond, and adapt to incremental change and sudden disruption.  This pandemic is unlike most crises we face where there is a definitive beginning, middle, and end (e.g., snowstorm).  A crisis of this nature is more like a wave; it has peaks and valleys that we have to recognize and adjust to. The sustained disruptions brought on by the pandemic make it more challenging to move from response to recovery to thriving as an organization.

However, despite the unusual nature of this particular crisis, I am struck by the way that the usual means of navigating a crisis still hold true: improvisation, clear communication, collaboration, problem solving, and—most importantly—trust.  Trust is key, and risk, innovation, efficiency, growth, and expansion can only happen when you have that solid foundation to build upon.

Personal resilience

Resilience is essential to keep organizations moving forward in times of crisis, but it is impossible to have organizational resilience without personal resilience in each member of your team. Often, people who are attracted to careers in healthcare are deeply compassionate.  But to take care of others, you first have to take care of yourself.  As they say, you cannot pour from an empty cup.

Personal resilience is the quality that allows people to be knocked down by stressors, yet come back at least as strong as they were before. Highly resilient people find a way to change course, emotionally heal, and continue moving toward their goals. In this endeavor, perception, or whether you see an event as disastrous or as an opportunity to learn and grow, matters greatly.

This may not be the natural bent for many of us. The good news is, resilience can be learned.  To strengthen your “resilience muscles,” ask yourself, “How can I cope with this in a healthy way? What is still good in my life?”  Set goals that matter to you, not just goals that are set for you by others, and take small steps to achieve them. As you are able, focus on the big picture, and remind yourself of challenges you have overcome in the past. As your personal resilience grows, so will your ability to encourage others around you who are struggling in times of crisis.

Pause to reflect:

  • What highlights from this summer will you take with you into the fall and winter to nourish your soul?
  • What are you looking forward to in this next season?
  • Who do you need to thank for their encouragement, support, or trustworthiness?

About Rand O’Leary

Rand O’Leary, FACHE is the Senior Vice President of Northern Light Health and President of Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center. He shares his thoughts on leadership and the healthcare industry at randoleary.com.