Coping with Complexity

Viki Holton

Senior Research Fellow at Ashridge. Her interests include surveying current trends in management and management development, best practice in career development, HR, equal opportunities and the development of women managers. She co-authored with Fiona Dent Women in Business: Navigating Career Success published in 2012.

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Fiona Dent

Fiona Dent has worked at Ashridge with a range of organisations and clients on a national and international basis. She teaches and consults in a broad spectrum of leadership, personal, interpersonal and relationship skills, and is trained in a range of psychometrics. She is Professor of Practice at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, UK.

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Personal resilience is an increasingly necessary tool to face the stress of a complex work environment. Fiona Dent and Viki Holton describe what it is and how to attain it.

Organisational life today demands more from individuals and is far more complex than in previous decades. While modern (and indeed historical) business life has always been complex, the speed of change and levels of uncertainty caused by the current general economic malaise and global competitiveness has made managers’ lives increasingly demanding.

This is evident from our findings in the recent survey by Ashridge Business School – The Ashridge Management Index 2012/2013. The key issues identified are:

  • increased pressure and stress on individuals
  • greater use of technology leading to a 24/7 business culture
  • greater ambiguity in day-to-day working life
  • change as a constant rather than occasional process

This has led to an increased interest in understanding how managers cope with stress while also continuing to perform at their best. The findings suggest that having good levels of personal resilience is an important factor in effective performance.

This article explores what resilience means, the characteristics of resilient people and how organisations and business schools can support people to develop their resilience, which in turn will lead to a more effective and successful business environment.

What is resilience?

Resilience is a process that takes place between an individual and a situation and which leads to an outcome. It is the relationship between the way a person thinks about a situation, feels about it and reacts to it.

People who are more resilient when faced with challenging situations that affect their equilibrium tend to have developed helpful personal coping strategies. Typical challenging situations might be tough work deadlines, ambiguity and change, resource cuts, personal trials and other situations beyond an individuals’ control.

For example, major restructuring within organisations will undoubtedly create uncertainty. Some people who have a more optimistic disposition will weather the storm and see this as an opportunity. They are behaving in a resilient way. Others will tend to worry and find it difficult to focus on their day-to-day work, which can lead to poor performance, stress, illness and depression.

For the full article, you can view the PDF or listen to the podcast.

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