Resilience: More Than Just a Buzzword

The word resilience printed in a book

In 1994, then STAR Group officer Derrick McManus was shot 14 times in five seconds, in one of Australia’s longest-ever sieges.

After the attack, he lay on the ground bleeding for three hours prior to his rescue. Then, against all odds, returned to full duties two and a half years later.

Derrick is the embodiment of resilience. The tools he used to recover from this life-altering moment — mentally, physically and emotionally — underpin his work today as an experienced corporate trainer delivering the ‘Building Resilience and Sustained Optimal Performance’ course with Professional and Continuing Education at the University of Adelaide.

Speaking with Ali Clarke on Levelling up: Your leadership podcast, Derrick reflects on this traumatic experience, why he believes resilience is far more than just the latest buzzword, and shares how human durability can help leaders to achieve higher levels of personal and professional success.

Resilience: the ability to ‘bounce back’

Derrick defines resilience as “the ability to bounce back”. How well you bounce-back from experiences, events or circumstances all comes down to preparation, he said.

“We need to train for the experiences, or the circumstances we can realistically expect to encounter in our day-to-day life,” Derrick said.   

“We’ve got to prepare for the worst…if the worst happens, can I manage it, can my organisation manage it, and can my family manage it.

“If we can manage the worst, then everything else after that is easy.

“Prior to the shooting I knew that if I got shot, I may have to deal with being in a wheelchair for the rest of my life…I may be dealing with nightmares, flashbacks, PTSD.

“What I said is: if I do get into this situation, if I do get shot, what could I anticipate as my best response to those things,” he said.

According to Derrick, there are two types of resilience: functional resilience, and aspirational resilience.

“Functional resilience is all about the stuff we need to get through day to day, week to week…it’s about having a ‘no stress zone’.

“Aspirational resilience is the resilience you need to take on the challenges that you’re passionate about.

“I relate this to taking on the STAR Group course – things that are massive mental, emotional, physical challenges – but you love them, and you want to take them on and be successful at them.

“Some people get locked into being aspirational, saying ‘I’ve got to be aspirational, I’ve got to keep pushing myself’, but unfortunately, if we keep on pushing ourselves all the time, then we’re going to hit anxiety, stress and burnout.

“So, you’ve got to know when to switch from aspirational resilience to functional resilience, and be comfortable doing it.” 

The continuum of durability

That’s where Derrick’s continuum of durability comes into play.

For Derrick, durability is all about achieving sustainable, optimal performance. It outlines how you can move from being a fragile leader, to a resilient leader, and finally, a durable leader.

It is designed to remove uncertainty from your choices and actions and give you confidence you are making the right decision.

“When we start something brand new, we’re fragile…we’re learning and experimenting,” he said.

“Then we move from fragility to a point where we are fairly competent and resilient — if something goes wrong we know how to fix it.

“Finally, we get to this place where we know we are durable; 100 per cent reliable…we know that everything we do is going to go exactly the way we want.” 

That’s the sweet spot, and the key to unlocking personal and professional success.

“When we are in this zone, we know exactly what is happening, and there is no stress…we are enjoying life,” he said.

“These are the days you come to work and go ‘I love this’.” 

If you’d like to learn practical strategies for improving your resilience; and reap the benefits for work, life satisfaction, increased confidence and optimism and improved mental wellbeing, register today for Derrick’s upcoming course, ‘Building Resilience and Sustained Optimal Performance’, being held on Tuesday 12 September. 

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