• Susan Nicolai

Creating a Culture of Resiliency? It Begins with Mistakes.

Growing up, whenever something didn’t go my way (and I was expressing my tearful teenage angst) my dad would say, “It’s good for you. It builds character.”

My reply (straight from the center of my little black heart), “I don’t want my character built!”

What we resist, persists. I racked up many character-building moments. While dad was right, these moments were opportunities for building character, my attitude was a barrier. I wasn’t ready to embrace my struggles so that they could become learning experiences. No, the world was still so unfair (Sob!)

If you endeavor to build a culture of greatness there will be challenges. Hurdles. Struggles. Difficulties. It is part of the hero’s journey: without the dragons to be slayed, our hero would be just an ordinary gal or no-big-deal dude.

Resiliency is the ability to tackle setbacks without letting them set you back. Resiliency doesn’t mean bullet-proof; it’s more like the magic potion that quickly heals the wound so you can dust off your armor and head forward to the next battle. Resiliency is the grit to get up and go, again.

Heroes reveal themselves by how they embrace obstacles and dig deep into a mysterious inner reservoir to overcome frustrations, foibles, and foes. Heroes are not necessarily looking to build their character, only to emerge victorious over their fire-breathing dragon. Heroism is in how they draw their swords, and say, “Come at me, you evil beast!”

The embracing of the problem is what energizes us. In that moment of fully accepting the problem, the energy is awakened. We feel not just hopeful, but victorious. That is precisely when the battle is won.

Owning the Problem is Realizing You have the Power to Solve It.

In the business world, the shift to ownership, or accountability, is represented by the moment the challenge is seen as an opportunity. It can’t be lip service. Putting a problem into air quotes and calling it “an opportunity” with half a heart doesn’t provide the sauce. The awesomesauce comes from seizing the day with a “Yes, we’ve got this!”

Create a Safe Place for Mistakes to be Owned.

I’ve been in many a conference room where problems were treated like dirty laundry, something to be swept under the rug before VIPs arrived. But there’s a new wave of thinking taking hold, and it is welcomed.

I’ve held over 300 interviews with Gen Z and Millennial employees over the past three years. They often expressed relief about mistakes being viewed as learning opportunities. When their more-senior colleagues shared their own similar mistakes, it was a bonding moment. Transparency establishes trust. It opens the heart. Why? Because we discover that our role models are human, too. Thank you, Brené Brown, for normalizing vulnerability.

Value-Sharing is an Emotional Experience.

When people speak of a common culture, they might say, “We are like-minded.” For example, we have a strong work ethic, or we believe in collaboration.


Aligning with values conceptually, or sharing similar philosophies, is a great first step in culture building. But, to transform a culture into a superpower, a platform from which everyone makes decisions, it takes a group of people who have internalized those shared philosophical values.

Internalization, or connecting values to the heart, occurs when emotions come into play. Shared experiences that evoke emotions are the catalyst for values to be adopted.

My interviewees confessed that they had moments of great doubt and frustration, and many reached a point when they were not sure if they had what it took to succeed.

Those low points became turning points when others—who had walked in their shoes— stepped in to help them see past the hurdles and offer words of encouragement and practical suggestions. The relief was emotional. The emotional experience resulted from a demonstration of values held by the group, often expressed as, “we got your back.”

Emotional experience is how values are integrated and become a new platform for personal performance.

Stories Trigger the Alchemy, Too.

Sharing stories is also effective in connecting people to common values. Remember that our brains generate thoughts and pictures that trigger the heart. Watching a movie in our mind is as real as the event itself; that’s why athletes use guided visualizations and mental rehearsals.

The coherence between thoughts and feelings—mind and heart—is where the alchemy occurs. When we take in an experience as if we are the hero, we become part of that energy and the hero’s transformation. We don’t simply believe in honesty; we are honest. We don’t simply speak about integrity; we feel it and we live it. We become our values and they become us.

Mistakes and Emotions become Useful Tools of Transformation.

As a born empath, I am thrilled to see emotional intelligence come out of the corporate closet. Just like mistakes become opportunities to set a foundation for transparency and trust, the peaks and valleys of emotions open doors for shared experience and strengthening collective values. Resiliency is much about what you do with the opportunities that mistakes and emotions bring to your table.

This article written by Susan Nicolai

Writer/Storyteller, Speaker/Facilitator and someone who cares about creating company cultures where everyone thrives.

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