Bouncing Back

By Lloyd Graff

Hiring good people for your business or organization is one of the most difficult tasks in management. I think a lot of the problem stems from not really knowing what we are looking for and the job candidate not knowing how to explain what he or she is providing.

I recently read a brief blog by Seth Godin, one of the most insightful practical philosophers of our day. He made the argument that we should hire for “resilience.” How easily do you bounce back from a disappointment? He calls it a skill, one that is more valuable than most.

I’m not sure I would call resilience a skill – it is more of a character trait – but it is enormously important in work and in life. I do not know how I would teach it other than telling others how I have dealt with adversity myself.

I do think you can look for it in an applicant, although probably not on a résumé. In an interview, I think a logical first question would be to ask the person about a major hardship in her life and how she dealt with it and continues to deal with it.

It might be a failed marriage, a business that went bust, a job she got fired from or the death of a loved one.

I believe a truly resilient person does not deny failure or loss. The person does not try to totally forget it or just rack it up to experience. Resilience that really counts means accepting a loss and not denying it.

In the used machinery business it seems like most of the deals we work on, often for months or even years, end up for naught. Sometimes the losses are devastating. I take them home with me. I wake up at 3 a.m. and can’t go back to sleep wondering why and how we blew it. Sometimes I talk about these failed deals with my wife, Noah or associates, but other times I just try to bury the thoughts and hope they don’t come up for me again.

The leader of an organization owes it to his people to be resilient and upbeat, but I think it is unrealistic to expect the leader to never show disappointment or fear if he or she wants to be seen as authentic and real.

Noah and I were talking about this over dinner recently and he recounted the personal story of rapper 50 Cent, whose autobiography he had just finished. Noah took inspiration from his story of going to jail, navigating warring drug gangs and recovering from 9 gunshot wounds. At least one of the bullets struck the rapper’s neck, permanently altering his voice. The shooting also caused his record label to disassociate with him and stop the release of his debut album. His story is one of true resilience, even If you condemn his criminal past.

The refugees who are fleeing the Middle East or El Salvador like my ancestors who left Russia and Lithuania need tremendous resilience to survive and prosper. Many will have the bounce back quality and others will lapse into depression.

I recently saw the movie “Brooklyn” about a spunky Irish immigrant in the early 1950s who came to New York and struggled to find her way, went back to her family in Ireland and then found the resilience and stamina to come back to America. I loved the story and the young actress, Saoirse Ronan, who had the lead.

As attractive as resilience appears in the theatre, politics and sports it is still an elusive quality to bottle and drink heartily from. But it is certainly one to search for in an employee and to nurture in yourself.

Question:  What have you bounced back from?

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5 thoughts on “Bouncing Back

  1. Kevin

    Great piece, Lloyd–very thought provoking. After stepping back and thinking about it, hardship and adversity have profoundly shaped my life and made me who I am. As one who is heavily involved in recruiting and hiring new associates, resiliency is an area I will delve into more thoroughly in interviews. It is absolutely an essential skill or trait in business and life. I just sent your column home to my two college age and two high school children.

  2. John Griner

    Hi Lloyd,

    Yes, my compliments for another exceptional very deep article. A few years ago after some of the bumps I’ve experienced in my business and personal life I decided resillience was a life skill I needed to learn. I finally realized the poor me stories I told myself were not useful and kept me stuck rather than propelling me foreword (lol).

    After reading a number of books and taking several personal development programs I’ve concluded the essence of resilience is acquiring the behavior of giving useful meaning to meaningless events. Events in themselves do not mean anything. It’s the meaning we give them that affects us.

    I imagine the most famous book on the subject is by Viktor Frankl who I imagine you and many of your readers are familiar with. Wikpedia quote: “Man’s Search for Meaning, tells the story of how he survived the Holocaust by finding personal meaning in the experience, which gave him” … Viktor Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and psychologist who founded what he … ETC ETC

  3. Kurt

    Hi Lloyd,
    Excellent points on resilience and its importance in all aspects of life. As with most of us, I’ve had some setbacks that could have sent my life and/or career into a major tailspin. Bouncing back from these was difficult, but ultimately very positive. As John points out above, Viktor Frankl’s concept of finding useful meaning in the events of your life is one of the keys to resilience.
    Another one that I have found useful from Frankl: “Someone who has a why to live for can endure almost any how”. I have observed this (and the lack of it) in many others over the years, as well as in myself. The power of a life purpose is amazing and is a major part of the resilience we are talking about. Not sure if you can probe an interviewee for their life purpose, but you can get a feel for if it there or not.
    Now I am going to go online and order copies of Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” and give it to my two sons to read. It is one of the best books I’ve ever read, and although it has been 25 years or more, I still remember key parts of it.

  4. Noah Graff

    Why do you think there are so many CEOs who had to overcome learning disabilities or ADD?

    They had to learn to work, to be resilient and solve problems through creativity.

    I had some moderate learning disabilities growing up. The old cliche of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, is often true. Overcoming them has definitely made me stronger and helped me overcome certain challenges in life.


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