Greetings and happy new year to each of you! As we reflect upon 2020 and anticipate the months and years ahead, I am hopeful in this new year that we can be mindful and intentional about our work and its implications for the communities of place, practice, and interest of which we are members.
My identities and professional interests have converged in my role as Chair of the Board of Directors at the intersection of community development and leadership education. For many, terms such as leadership and community development are equally specific yet ambiguous. Most could likely describe what these terms mean; however, there are no universally agreed-upon definitions of either. And still, the same ambiguity could be attributed to resilience. The 2021 conference theme “Global Challenges, Local Resilience” remains prescient as we begin the second year of a global pandemic and ongoing social injustices and anticipate an eventual return to a new normal. In addition to planning the CDS conference, resilience has also remained a focus in my faculty role as we are planning the Iowa State Leadership Experience (ISLE), a one-day student leadership conference with a 2021 theme of “Unified Resilience in Leadership.”
What is resilience?
So, this resilience thing - What is it? Who has it? How do we develop more of it? Far short of a comprehensive scholarly investigation, the following are my thoughts on the intersection of community development, leadership, and resilience, based on my reflections and a collection of resources recently recommended by the Harvard Business Review. I hope we can all reflect upon and incorporate these practical resilience strategies in our roles as community development practitioners and scholars and our roles as global citizens and community members.
LaRae Quy (2020) described resilience as the ability to cope with adversity and obstacles and that it is a product of believing not just in oneself but in something bigger than oneself. Hougaard, Carter, and Mohan (2020) wrote about building resilience in times of crisis such as the pandemic, noting the collective experience of worry, anxiety, and instability and how this impacts our mental state and vulnerability to distractions. The authors wrote that such distractions could lead to negative thinking, obsessive thinking, fear, and helplessness. Diane Coutu (2002), in her research of resilience theories, identified three overlapping characteristics, including acceptance of reality; firmly held values that life is meaningful; and the ability to improvise. Our inability to be together in community has had multiple effects, including a sense of isolation and separation; stigmas, judgments, and blame spreading; and an impulse to adopt a survivalist mindset and behaviors. As a result, “We can easily forget our shared vulnerability and interdependence” (Hougaard, Carter, & Mohan, 2020).
In a study related to the COVID pandemic, Marcus Buckingham (2020) observed no discernible differences in resilience based on gender, age, ethnicity, or nationality. Instead, the study found two primary drivers of resilience, operating independently of a nation’s response to the pandemic. First, resilience is a reactive state of mind created by exposure to suffering from COVID; increased exposure led to increased resilience. In short, we develop resilience by facing reality and responding to it. Second, the more tangible the threat, the more resilient we become. The study found that experiencing multiple work-related changes increased resilience. It is safe to assume that most, if not all of us, have experienced many professional and personal changes and that, perhaps, we are weathering the ongoing crises more resiliently than we may realize.
Authors Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan (2016) examined resilience through the tendency for many of us to be workaholics and the importance of pausing for recovery amid our work and resilience development. I note here my feelings of guilt over the past year seeking a balance between a need to feel productive and a need for self-preservation, all the while trying (and often failing) to perform at a pre-pandemic level.
What are some strategies for developing mindfulness and resilience?
While this is not an exhaustive or empirically definitive set of tasks for developing resilience, there are some common themes across the resources I reviewed. Broadly, we are encouraged to develop greater self-awareness and preservation, accept reality and respond appropriately, and maintain belief in the power of community and coexistence. What can we do?
- Don’t sugarcoat or minimize reality; embrace it, improvise in response to it, and prepare for some changes to remain permanent as we find a “new normal” (Buckingham, 2020; Coutu, 2002)
- Build mindfulness (e.g., attention control, emotion regulation, increased self-awareness; focusing on your responses to situations and what you can control) and strategically stop your work to recover and recharge (Achor & Geilan, 2016; Quy, 2020)
- Develop competence and commitment by taking responsibility for your success; find your “zone of competence” and by searching for meaning and developing a sense of purpose (Coutu, 2002); Quy, 2020)
- Compassionately connect with others, which I believe is crucial to community and leadership development. We must start with compassion - to question how we can help those around us have a better day - to see and seize upon possibilities (Hougaard, Carter, & Mohan, 2020).
Relevance in 2021 and Beyond
My final thoughts are related to the timeliness and relevance of focusing on community development, leadership, and resilience. Are these topics merely fashionable in times of crisis, or are they more enduring even if seemingly less critical during times of stability and peace? Coutu (2002) recalled an industry leader who described resilience as a popular buzzword yet something one realizes they have only after the fact, while Quy (2020) explained that resilience is universal, involving thoughts, behaviors, and emotions that anyone can master.
As a leadership educator, I see parallels between Quy’s notion that everyone can be resilient and believe that everyone can learn to lead and engage in the leadership process. I consciously encourage students in my leadership courses to make personal connections to the discipline so that leadership is not just a buzzword on their applications for jobs and advanced education. To draw further connections, each of us has the potential and responsibility to engage in community development. We should be sure to acknowledge the vital work being done around us by those who might consider this work by another name or something other than community development altogether. My challenge to myself and our CD peers and fellow global citizens is to be mindful, engaged, and inclusive in mainstreaming our work and passions in both good times and in bad. I believe the very name of this publication – the CDS Vanguard – which is by definition “a group of people leading the way in new developments or ideas” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.) is reflective of this challenge. How will you lead the way in 2021 and beyond? You might start by planning to join us for the CDS Annual International Conference.
The Local Host Committee developed plans for the 2020 conference, now to be hosted virtually July 12-15, 2021 (learn more and register here), with an intentional focus on our individual and collective roles and responsibilities in community development practice and scholarship. The conference will explore how community developers, organizers, and leaders pursue local resilience in light of global challenges and how local actions contribute specifically to global resilience in the face of climate change, refugee migration, workforce and trade disruption, and other challenges. I suspect the conference, the keynote speakers, and the richly diverse posters and presentations will continue to inform and inspire our work at the intersections of community development, leadership, and resilience.
Achor, S. & Geilan, M. (2016). Resilience is about how you recharge, not how you endure. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved January 9, 2021, from: https://hbr.org/2016/06/resilience-is-about-how-you-recharge-not-how-you-endure
Buckingham, M. (2020). What really makes us resilient? Harvard Business Review. Retrieved January 9, 2021, from: https://hbr.org/2020/09/what-really-makes-us-resilient
Coutu, D. (2002). How resilience works. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved January 9, 2021, from: https://hbr.org/2002/05/how-resilience-works
Hougaard, R., Carter, J., & Mohan, M. (2020). Build your resilience in the face of a crisis. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2020/03/build-your-resiliency-in-the-face-of-a-crisis
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Vanguard. In Merriam-Webster dictionary. Retrieved January 9, 2021 from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vanguard
Quy, L. (2020). Building Resilience When Life is Not Perfect. Smart Brief. Retrieved January 9, 2021, from: https://www.smartbrief.com/original/2020/12/building-resilience-when-life-not-perfect