This post originally appeared on Forbes.
Recently I connected about business and resilience with Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author with Adam Grant of “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy.” We talked about how her personal journey through grief and recovery after the sudden loss of her husband catalyzed for her the need to help people move past trauma. “I was an accidental sheriff,” she said. Sandberg’s experience and learnings provide invaluable lessons for how business leaders can manage through extreme change and failure.
Why is that? Today’s business climate of volatility and risk makes a compelling case for leaders to think hard about the importance of fostering resilience in the workplace. “Option B” delivers a blueprint for navigating in this environment. “How you fail and how you recover affect the speed and strength of your recovery,” says Sandberg. “Our choices can actually affect the speed and strength of recovery and growth. Resilience is about the choices we make in staying the course—and not being afraid to fail.”
Sheryl’s experience and research have shown that people can gain tremendous strength and confidence recovering from trauma or adversity, and this has valuable applicability to the workplace and business success: “We have to frame new possibilities for people and organizations to help them make choices about how they recover from setback,” she says. Here are three key ways to lean in to challenge, risk and grief:
1. “Empathy with extreme honesty.”
Too often we skirt around the issues that silently interfere with our employees’ work. Sandberg says that you have to address the elephant in the room. When people are afraid to say the wrong thing, they say nothing at all, but then nothing gets done. Instead, she says, we have to fearlessly approach the issue with empathy, and ask the person what they need from us. “This is what can impact a course for change,” says Sandberg. The first step is acknowledging that someone is going through something. “Be there for each other; help people through it,” she says. Beyond that, empathy involves addressing the issues. “Say, ‘I know you are hurting. I am here for you.’ It’s not about taking work off their plate. That disempowers people,” she says. “It’s about supporting them through whatever it is they are going through.”
2. “Allow yourself to grow, even transform, from challenge and change.”
Change fosters growth. “The ways in which we grow in our lives, after death and failure, is called post traumatic growth,” she says. “More people experience this than we imagine. The insight and confidence people gain when recovering from trauma is critical not only to recovery but to making people stronger than they were before. To foster post traumatic growth, we have to help people recover, give them the time they need.” Sandberg believes we need to develop better policies around leave to make post traumatic growth possible. “Leave policies are terrible. Paid leave is critical. For bereavement, we give 20 days at Facebook. When companies are there for people at critical times, it makes a critical difference.” While a typical bereavement policy is three to five days, this doesn’t begin to allow people to heal. If we ease people back into the workplace with more support, we don’t “shame” the process of healing, we help them do it with integrity and treat it like the insight-gaining, growing experience that it can be.
3. “Learn and practice mindful gratefulness.”
Leaders can help teams practice resilience, even before adversity strikes. This starts with building good relationships, acknowledging their importance and being appreciative of these relationships. Relying on people and relating to them is essential for fostering a culture of positivity and gratitude. Sandberg talks about the importance of practical gratitude for life, for pre-traumatic growth, and for building strong relationships. Her recovery from what she lost taught her to be appreciative of what she has. “When we go through trauma and recovery we learn this,” she says. “Appreciation. Deep appreciation. Now, I have it. Mindful gratefulness.”
Sandberg reinforces for leaders that we need to build up our employees’ resilience before adversity hits and be there to guide them through it when it does. Resilience teaches us about leaning into challenge: We shouldn’t be afraid of adversity. Rather, we should face it and embrace the growth and strength we build through overcoming it.