Time to think, Time to be: A case for increased focus on personal resilience in organisations


A recurring theme I hear in my coaching sessions with organisational leaders is “I need to take time to think”. We know how in today’s organisational landscape, with the ever-increasing expectations  of  virtually instant response times and a plethora of complex projects competing for resources and attention,  that this can seem almost like a luxury item to hard-pressed executives. Yet, we also know fundamentally that as human beings, critical and reflective thinking are as essential to us as breathing and drinking water. Major pieces of research demonstrate the link between the quality of thinking and impacts of overall performance and well-being. A Harvard business review study into the links between reflection and how this impacts on learning found that just 10 minutes of critical thinking at the start of a working day can improve productivity effectively by as much as 28%!  I am also very interested between the quality of thinking and reflection on executives overall well-being and levels of resilience, as the allied themes of resilience and well-being are major factors at play in individual, team and organisational effectiveness.

As professional executive coaches, we are well versed in the skill of continual reflection and inquiry. Using Schons’ model, we know that before engaging in client session, we need to reflect both before the session, during the session, in the moment, and also after the session has concluded; reflection in action and on action.  It is this continual cycle which enables us to continually ensure a high level of competence and assuredness in what we do. Indeed, the concept of reflective practitioner goes to the heart of our professional practise as coaches.

What as coaches can we do to support our clients in increasing their ability to incorporate proper critical thinking and reflection into their demanding day jobs? A recent client is a director of a large research organisation . As well as being an expert in his particular field of research, he also has key responsibility for the direction of the organisation as well as overall responsibility for a large number of people. His work load is very high, as his responsibility needs to be balanced between his particular research interests, his leading and operational responsibilities for strategy and staff, as well as his external stakeholder management role.

He wanted to create more space to reflect at periods during the day, as he felt that with back to back meetings, he was beginning to disengage from one meeting whilst focussing on the possible topics and outcomes of the next.  The impact of these continual meetings and phone calls, was a feeling of not being in control and associated high levels of frustration,  Upon recognising his need for space between meetings, he is now creating buffers between meetings, which give him that vital time to reflect, make notes before moving on to the next one. Of course, it won’t always work out this way, but his intention and will are there to make this a habit from now on. A simple and obvious change, but the coaching process was what gave him the space and time to think about what needed to change to suit his working preferences.

Other clients are suffering the impact of prolonged periods of stress, almost invariably due to major organisational restructuring often combined with periods of growth. The symptoms they disclose are initially just the presenting item, a loss of enjoyment at work, or reduced decision-making ability, or the classic sign, an inability to get a proper night’s sleep. All of these disruptions are signs of an over stressed system and the bodies responses endeavouring to protect itself.   As a coach with a specific interest in resilience and well-being I see my role as:-

  1. Supporting; in raising their awareness of what their well-being actually is and it’s importance to them in their daily lives
  2. Understanding what the critical factors are for them in terms of improving their overall resilience and well-being
  3. Helping them assess their levels of resilience and well-being against key components
  4. Supporting them in identifying and implementing their own unique well-being recovery and maintenance plan.
  5. Supporting them in addressing sustainability of any desired changes, and how to deal with set-backs.

For some individuals, this can amount to some relatively minor changes; for others it can mean a fundamental re-think of the roles and responsibilities of their role and what needs to happen to enable them achieve their key objectives in a way which supports them to work in an optimal manner.  Almost invariably, with skilled coaching and the will and intent of the client, positive changes will be effected, which enhance their overall sense of well being and flourishing.

I am looking forward to exploring the themes of resilience in coaching, both at the East Midlands Council’s coaching conference in Melton Mowbray on the 3rd June and at the EMCC (European mentoring and coaching council)  CPD event being held in Manchester on the 8th July.  If you are interested in the themes outlined here or want to learn more about emintell and the work we do connected to coaching and organisational resilience, visit us at www.emintell.com .  Together with Natures Coaching Limited, we also run regular open personal resilience workshops; the next one is being held at Kenwood Hall Hotel in sheffield on the 19th June 2015.