25.07 20150

Rising Above Vicissitude – How to Build a Team

Recently, I was at lunch with coworkers and conversation turned to vicissitude. “Vicissitude, what is that?” I say.   Someone explained that it is a negative, unpredictable change in your luck or circumstances, a downturn. When talking of the vicissitudes of life, people are referring to the difficult times that we all go through… surprising, unwelcome episodes of pain or strife. In other words, “life has its ups and downs.” What goes up will come down. A high will eventually become a low, many times very unexpectedly, but how do we cope? How do we rise above a vicissitude or low point?

Al Siebert addresses this idea in his book “The Survivor Personality.” He takes a look at those people who meet very difficult life circumstances with uncommon courage and not only survive but thrive. He identifies the personality type of these individuals as a survivor personality. In the study of survivability, Siebert noticed that the Rambo types are the first to go. Survivors do not exhibit a self-centered survival of the fittest attitude, but rather such strong self-confidence that they do not have to act mean or tough. Survivors have a relaxed awareness; their personal radars are always on scan. Survivors are tough, but they show patience. They are pushed hard, but they are tolerant. Survivors hold up well under pressure. Siebert points out that if you go into deadly combat, these are the soldiers that you want to be with. These are the types of people you want to be on your team.

How can you identify and recruit these people to be on your team? Luck or fate is not the reason for survival; rather, something about the people’s personalities tips the scales in their favor. Per Siebert’s study, survivors possess some specific notable qualities. Survivors are learners who are more interested in continually learning, rather than just knowing. A person’s resume may be impressive with education and training, but what is his or her level of curiosity? Survivors incorporate information differently…they do not just take it in, store and regurgitate. They find patterns and make maps. A person may have a lot of certifications, but is he or she creative and engaged in thought processes? Survivors have predictable ways of reacting. Can the person hold a steady course of action?   Survivors maintain confidence in stressful situations. Is the person able to use his or her wits to apply previous training when under pressure?

Can survivability be promoted in existing teams? Siebert asserts that survivor qualities can be learned but not taught. Survivability is a discovery process that no other human can reveal to you. To assist with the development of these characteristics in our teams, we have to promote a culture and create an environment that fosters these traits. Promote a culture of continuous learning and improvement by offering hands-on training. Approach work in small increments, allowing the team to use trial and error to learn from failure. Promote a culture of self-accountability by instituting daily standups. Instill in the team the importance of the self-discipline of monitoring good practices through team working agreements. Use coaching techniques of questioning and guidance rather than direct instruction to allow a person to discover the answers. Be open to questioning the way things work. Develop an attitude of learning from mistakes or failures through regular retrospectives. Promote the Responsibility Matrix model to avoid blaming and victimization reactions. Use adversity to drive change by taking immediate action on learning.

Survivor characteristics are greatly important to both individuals and organizations as people learn to surmount crisis through personal effort, and not only survive, but thrive. Teams of people can learn to pick themselves up after failure or negativity, learn important lessons, set positive goals and rebuild, operating at a higher level than before. They can find growth from the pain and negativity previously experienced, rather than feeling victimized. Siebert profoundly points out that the way we interact with life determines if we will survive and if we will just survive or learn to thrive. Our attitudes will determine our well being more than our circumstances. With the right attitudes we can not only survive the vicissitudes of life but also rise above.

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