VUCA resilience – how we learn from crises

Woman in office holds hand to her face
VUCA - Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity wonderfully describes the zeitgeist and how life feels in today's society. Executives in particular are often exposed to strong stresses and must possess a great deal of resilience in order to master their everyday lives.

Monika Schärer, culture woman and moderator, and Markus Renevey (RoBe alumnus), founder and CEO of the Swiss Resilience Hub, talked about resilience in the RoBe Lunch talk. Monika Schärer also shared a personal event in which resilience played a significant role: a few years ago, she had to face a diagnosis of breast cancer. “I have always considered myself to be a resilient person,” says Schärer. But what does resilience actually mean and can anyone learn resilience?

You are as resilient as you feel

“Resilience is the competence to get back up after crises and learn from them so that the next crisis is better handled,” says Renevey. We can only evaluate resilience subjectively, and there is no guarantee that a person who has been highly resilient up to this point will remain so in the future. Still, you can usually trust your gut feeling “You are resilient if you have proven it to yourself several times and feel that way. If you have been able to cope well with major challenges and setbacks up to this point, you have a greater chance of also managing a new crisis properly and perhaps even learning from it. However, resilience is not a constant. Someone who copes well with a death in their immediate environment may break down completely when they lose their job,” adds Renevey.

Can anyone learn resilience?

First the bad news: Studies prove that part of the resilience ability is innate. Another part is acquired in childhood and adolescence. All is not lost, however, because the good news is that even in adulthood, it is possible to continuously strengthen one’s resilience. “If you manage to keep proving to yourself that you can “get back up” after crises, it will strengthen your resilience and your confidence in your self-efficacy,” Renevey says. There are several areas of action and measures that are strengthening for many people, such as sustainable relationships, mindfulness, humor and regular exercise in nature, to name a few.

Fields of action for more resilience

According to Renevey, there are three process-oriented fields of action within resilience:

  • Self-awareness: be mindful and perceive yourself without judgment. Ask yourself the question “How do I feel?” and “And what is important to me?”.
  • Self-empowerment: Allowing yourself to take care of yourself, to be satisfied and fulfilled, and to take responsibility for your own well-being.
  • Self-control: Knowing and using effective ways of acting in order to specifically control your own emotions, thoughts and actions.

Schärer confirms that self-direction was very important after her breast cancer diagnosis. Recognizing that she could have a say in shaping or deciding everything – even if it was just the choice of doctor – gave her strength. At times, she felt like she was walking a tightrope: “On the one hand, there is the option of simply ignoring the problem and continuing to live as if nothing were wrong. On the other hand, the problem overlays my entire life and I only deal with it,” says Schärer. Finding the right balance here is one of the challenges of coping with crises.

To each his own path to resilience

Top-level executives in particular are often critical of the concept of mindfulness, pushing it into the realm of “hocus-pocus spirituality.” “If I have my way, no one needs to be mindful, breathe consciously or practice self-empowerment,” Renevey says. “If people want to implement or try other activities, that’s okay too. I just ask them what their goal is and what it is or could be effective for them to manage stress,” he adds. Whatever helps that person fits: Exercise, sharing with acquaintances, relaxation exercises or solution-focused approaches to achieving the goal, healthy eating, etc.

Good leadership requires resilience. That’s why we deal with this topic among others in the CAS Leadership & Inclusion. Monika Schärer and Markus Renevey provide further tips for more resilience in this continuing education course.