Shining resilience in action. Pictured: Danielle Cruz, Tansley Stearns, Liz Webb (my mom), MacKenzie Stearns
All of us face challenges. Those challenges happen to us and sadly, they also happen to the people we love. My mom, Liz Webb, has Crohn’s disease. Her journey through this health challenge has been agonizing. It took us years to find a diagnosis. Along the way, her doctor of more than 30 years “fired” her, not believing that there was an issue. She has undergone unnecessary surgeries. She has gone weeks without eating. She has lost many pounds. She has learned to survive on a fairly restrictive and cautious diet. She has felt isolated, lonely, frustrated, and scared. Despite the struggle, if you had the opportunity to meet her today, you would encounter a vibrant, positive, smiling woman. My mother emanates resilience.
Resilience also matters to our credit unions. As organizations, we face tremendous pressure and mounting challenges. Even with vision, extraordinary passion, exceptional teams, and operational mastery, bad days happen. New regulations are enacted. Talent can be hard to find, attract, and retain. Consumers demand more desiring advice, exceptional experiences, and ease of use. The competitive landscape has never been more complex. The broader world and economy presents uncertainties. Beyond the strategic, sometimes we just have a rotten day.
The best organizations find a way to grow resilience. They experience the challenge, they face it head on, they learn from it, and they find their way through to a better place. That likely seems intuitive, but how do we move from knowing that resilience matters to our teams to providing mechanisms and a purposeful approach to building resiliency that sustains and supports our scaling credit unions?
According to Harvard Business Review’s, “The 4 Things Resilient Teams Do,” resilient teams have these things common:
- “They believe they can effectively complete tasks together
- They share a common mental model of teamwork
- They are able to improvise, and
- They trust one another and feel safe.”
To help ensure these resilient teams grow in our organizations, we must invest in developing psychological safety. According to Google’s “Guide: Understand team effectiveness,” psychological safety, “refers to an individual’s perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk…and in a team with high psychological safety, teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members.”
Why invest in this effort? It drives bottom line results. According to Dr. Ranga Ramanujam’s, piece “Fostering psychological safety in collaborative work pays off,” “At Google, individuals in teams with higher psychological safety brought in more revenue, were more likely to stay at Google, more likely to incorporate their teammates’ ideas in formulating proposals, and received significantly higher performance ratings from executives.”
In my observation of my mom, her experience through the challenges of Crohn’s, and what we can apply as we build more resilient credit union teams, we can follow what I term the “REBOUND” model:
- R – Reel. One of my favorite Cameron Crowe movies, “Elizabethtown,” includes this line, “You have five minutes to wallow in the delicious misery. Enjoy it, embrace it, discard it. And proceed.” Reeling is about experiencing the pain. Feeling it deeply. For my mom, this was mourning the loss of living a life without chronic illness. It was enduring the frustration when simply going out to dinner. It included asking for special options that wouldn’t cause a flare-up. We have to feel the pain to move on from it.
Whether it is change we create at the credit union or change that has been created by others, human beings struggle as things adjust. Just as when we grieve, we have to experience the feelings we have, or we can’t move past them. In our credit unions we can support one another as we reel. Some individuals experience changes and move on rapidly. Others may need more time. Understanding how and at what pace each of us moves through our “reeling” is crucial.
- E – Engage Your Tribe. Some of our reeling may be internal and we may need time and space. We will also need the support of our tribes. As my mom’s journey has progressed, her tribe includes friends who check on her, it includes family members who have helped drive her to treatments, and it has included me being the “heavy” with her doctors when we aren’t making progress.
Our tribes know us, understand our foibles and love us without question. Sometimes this tribe may be a part of our credit union. Other times, our tribe may be friends or family that have no connection to our organizations. Either way, making sure that each individual on our teams have an opportunity to engage those people who know them, love them, and bring them comfort is crucial.
- B – Brainpower Boost. Once we’ve felt all that we need to and we’ve engaged our tribes to feel supported, our brains are ready to learn and bring in the power of other brains. In the case of my mom’s illness, this took us years. However, we have finally found a doctor who is an expert in digestive illnesses. Her expertise has brought my mom relief through treatment options and it has brought her peace of mind knowing she has someone with answers in her corner.
In our credit unions, these experts might be internal and sometimes they may be external resources we rely on to help us gain knowledge that can inform what’s next. We can enhance the power of the whole credit union by bringing in individuals with experiences that fill the gaps in our experience.
- O – One foot in front of the other. Forward motion helps. At some point, we have to stand back up after our frustration and disappointment has been expressed, we’ve leaned on our tribe, and we’ve learned all we can and move into the next day. For my mom, sometimes this means finding a way, even when weak, to make it to church on Sunday. Sometimes it means going to dinner with a group of her former colleagues, even when she can’t order a meal. Sometimes it means making a trip from Michigan to Colorado to visit her family. Her doctor has shared with her this advice, “Live your life.”
The same is true for our teams. Whether we’ve experienced disappointment, loss, or simply are adjusting to a changing world, we have to focus on serving our members. Moving forward, doing something, helps our brains adjust to our new normal. It also helps us feel like we are accomplishing something, even if it is small.
- U – Understand good still exists. When we experience change and loss it can feel hopeless. Some weeks, months and even years can feel like a pile on. During the early days of my mom’s experience with Crohn’s, we felt that exhaustion. I know my mom wondered if she would ever “get her life back.” Despite this, she has a magical ability to see the good, and I’ve watched her celebrate small wins like moving from eating only squash soup to adding in English muffins.
In our credit unions, as leaders, we can influence our teams’ abilities to see the good that exists by catching them doing things well and elevating the wins that occur. Especially as those wins relate to the changes we are carrying forward, engaging with small successes helps change our collective mindset to a more positive view.
- N – Never give up. Persistence matters. There is also a reason that “never give up” comes nearly at the end of the REBOUND model. We have to have strength to persist. Today, as my mom has learned, grown, and experienced the ups and downs of Crohn’s, it is easier than it was at the beginning to push through. With support, knowledge, small wins, and progress, it was easier for her to handle the next obstacle, knowing that she had launched over the last.
As our teams feel our support, observe us standing with them through the tough times, and experience their own ability to weather change and challenges, they will grow their persistence muscles and insist that there is not any hurdle they can’t gracefully avoid or leap over.
- D – Distract. Despite all of our best efforts, some days are dark. Throughout my mom’s illness, in order to receive treatment, she has had to go through testing and periods of waiting for test results to return in order for treatment plans to be put in place. The days and nights are long, tedious, and overwhelming. Sometimes the only answer is a Netflix binge or a long phone call to talk about what is happening with her granddaughter.
As leaders, sometimes we have to build in some distractions and relief for our teams. It can be as simple as organizing a potluck or inviting a conversation that isn’t work related. Distraction can be a simple and important tool for helping all of us deal with the intensity of change.
All of our worlds are changing rapidly. In order for our credit unions to win the war for talent, create value for our members, and grow to provide even stronger impact for the hard-working people we serve, we must build resilient organizations. My mom has inspired me her whole life. In the last eight years, as she has found her way through a debilitating disease, and she has inspired me even more. Let her example inspire you to lead using the REBOUND model to overcome challenges, develop resilience, and make your credit union team even stronger.