Principle 9: Bypass the cognitive faff

By Serena Battistoni|January 30, 2019|Enabling the Resilient Organisation|

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Jenny Campbell, Resilience Engine

Principle 9: Bypass the cognitive faff

People need to talk about resilience. They need to know it goes up and down, even for those with high levels. They need to know how it gets drained day to day. And they need to know the key factors of how to support and extend where resilience is in deficit.

Leaders in particular need to be able to match the resilience demand with the resilience potential within their organisation. The resilience potential of their people needs both support to ensure it doesn’t drop… and extension, in order to match the increase in demand due to our complex and uncertain world.

But sharing the facts and insights into stress, mental health and resilience, whilst helpful, will not shift things enough to ensure that the resilience demands match the current resilience potential. The recent survey from the Resilience Engine and the Academy of Executive Coaching survey showed such a shocking mismatch of resilience demand vs resilience potential; we are currently way off.

Jenny Campbell, Resilience Engine

A lot of this mismatch comes from what we call the ‘cognitive faff’.

People – leaders in particular – love to show up together as knowing stuff. They ask interesting questions, they enquire about complex connections. Groups of leaders especially coalesce in this cognitive activity. Take the typical leadership programme : 60-70 senior executives altogether, being offered some kind of new knowledge, and having the opportunity to discuss and ask questions of the expert presenter. Everyone feels good about sharing the data, talking about the subject, and then going out of the room. ‘Interesting’, ‘useful’ are the kinds of words used. Those who have voiced clever questions feel they get a lot out of the session and that they can feel good about themselves knowing they have ‘got’ it. Those who don’t feel they understand keep quiet and try to catch up quietly outside of the room, so they don’t show their vulnerability.

We call all of this kind of dynamic the ‘cognitive faff’. It leads to very little change.

But the mismatch of resilience demand vs resilience potential is real. You can see the signs of it every day. Leaders need to enable people to really support and extend resilience. They need to get on top of the conditions for organisation resilience to flourish.Resilience is your capacity for change. Whilst it includes those who aren’t coping, it also includesthose who have that highest level of adaptability. It isn’t about being tough which can lead to brittleness, it’s the opposite!

So resilience as your capacity for change means learning. And learning means being outsideof your comfort zone. And that means helping people both whilst they are vulnerable, but more strategically, learn to be vulnerable together! Imagine if you and your organisation had the resilience to say

 ‘I don’t know’ or ‘ I don’t know how’
which shows you don’t have the answer but are seeking


‘I don’t like’
which may show you as opposing something but willing to work at what you do like


I think this or that..’
which may show you as going against the tide but willing to forge a new way


‘I feel stupid because..’
which may show you as admitting mistake or becoming frozen, but seeking to learn and get unstuck

‘I need you because’
Which may show you as reaching, connecting, and seeking to build together

That’s the domain of high performance. It’s the domain of collaboration. It’s the domain of innovation. It’s the domain of vulnerability. And it’s all the domain of resilience.

The first step for leaders is to embrace how strategic resilience is. Then, bypass all of this cognitive faff, invest for real in resilience. Support vulnerability, extend resilience potential, and seek to create the conditions for resilient behaviour. That way you’ll navigate the complexity you face, and perform much more easily.

Wondering how to extend your organisation’s resilience potential? Our Community of Practice will help you live and breathe this stuff; we can support any size of organisation. Get in touch via

Author: Jenny Campbell

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