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Agility and Resilience— When Grit and Guts Trump Intelligence and Charm

Posted on 08/27/2019 in Executive Coaching, Featured Articles by Jack Speer

My Aunt Vera Mae Burkes died this month at the age of 96–she was a remarkable woman and she demonstrated one of humanity’s most valuable traits–agility and resilience.  Agility is the ability to adapt to surprising, unexpected changes that life can present to you, and to survive and thrive.

Vera Mae and her generation modeled resilience.  She was born in rural America in the early years of the 20th Century.  Automobiles and radios were new technologies.  Electricity and telephones were game changing in their impact on Vera Mae and the people of her times, like the Internet today.  She waited for my uncle Ovid, a farm boy who suddenly found himself as a Marine in WWII in the cold and frozen fields of German winters.  My aunt Vera Mae was a member of what Tom Brokaw described as the Greatest Generation.  She raised a family with three children and, with her generation, built a foundation that enabled us to live the American Dream.

Agility–The Calling of the 21st Century
Our own generation has been called upon to find the agility and resilience to meet the challenges of technological change, greater than at any time in the history of the world, and it’s only beginning.  Then as employees we must learn to compete in the global economy.

Agility and resilience have one common thread–how much we value life and what it’s worth it to us to go on.  Most of us will have at least 9 jobs in the course of our careers, and chances are better than average that the job I’m doing today won’t exist in 5 years.  Agility and resilience will determine how we navigate a raging river of change that no one has traveled before.

Agility and Resilience–Getting up and Going Again
Resilience and agility are really about how much you value your own life and that of your family–what do you do when your life is upended in such a dramatic way that you have to change your whole mindset, skillset, and direction?

In the 21st Century, each of us is going to need what the Harvard Business Review describes as the “3 Q’s.”  They are:

IQ, Intelligence Quotient, which was the fundamental way that people were thought to achieve in the 20th Century, and a few brains still come in handy today.

EQ, Emotional Quotient, came in the 1990s as a warning to all of us who thought brains relieved us of the responsibility of relating to teams and colleagues and taught us that getting along with others is just as important as IQ.

AQ, Agility Quotient, a basic 21st Century skill, is the measure of the grit and gusto that makes us determined to do life and careers well.

The three Q’s are a basic toolset for us today.  Each is a leg on the stool of our life possibilities.

There are three basic principles to guide us through the successes and setbacks we’ll all experience.

  1. Value Your Life–Don’t Give Up.  I find a lot of people who are chronically underachieving with careers that don’t move forward are people with little sense of the gift of life they’ve been given.  They have a limited sense of how they plan to use their lives–life just happens to them.  I went through some Quora posts recently about how people value their life and found a huge amount of people who profoundly believe that life is pointless and that working to build a better world is the work of fools.  If you don’t value your life and have a sense of where it’s going, you won’t be able to effectively find the resilience to move through the challenges of life.  If I value my life, I won’t give in to circumstances.
  2. Take Charge of Yourself.  Companies and organizations that will hire you and create a framework for your life are fewer and farther between, and this trend will continue.  On top of this, the life of companies where you will be employed is continuing to have a shorter lifespan.  Without resilience–the ability to organize your own structure–there won’t be companies and organizations to organize your day and pay you each month. The most important thing that we can do is to develop a skillset that applies to almost any work situation where companies have outcomes to achieve.  If you prepare for a specific job it will disappear.  You must be continuing to scan the horizon for industries where your skillset fits.  The first thing you do when you land that job you love is to begin to look for the next one.
  3. Live a Mindset of Perpetual Preparation.   What did you learn this week that will help prepare you for the rest of your life?  I met a person the other day who said enthusiastically, “I’m retired!  I don’t have to become anything anymore!”  This person had hated growing and learning for a lifetime, and now they were at the moment they could time out the clock for the rest of their lives.  If you have a lifetime ahead of you, you can’t afford to have this mindset.  You must have a mindset of perpetual preparation in which you’re absolutely passionate about who you’ll become tomorrow.

My focus lately has been learning that the challenges we face today of knowing whether technology, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality will leave anyone in jobs that exist today leads me to the conclusion that agility and resilience are the only factors that will be able to guide the journey.  If we find ourselves immobilized and paralyzed at the prospect, we’ll be a victim of these changes.  With agility and resilience, we’re embarking on the most exciting journey ever.

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