Post
April 29, 2020 | 8 min. read

Building a Culture That Fosters Resilience

Post by Ollie Sharpe, VP of Revenue in EMEA for SalesLoft. Ollie loves to create go-to-market strategies in disruptive technology environments.


Most people think that successful people are happy. But that’s not quite right. 

I’ve come to understand that success follows happiness, and not the other way around. Because when we are happy, that’s when we’re most effective.

As VP of Revenue in EMEA, I lead 15 people in our London office, an extremely talented collection of sales, pre-sales, customer success, and marketing professionals. 

The way I see it, my job is to be the Happiness Officer. Because if I have the right employer brand to attract and recruit the right people, build the best team, and set clear ground rules, my job then becomes making sure everyone is happy. 

On the face of it, that seems like both the easiest and toughest job ever. One thing I do know? For me, it’s more rewarding than anything else.

One way I strive to keep my team happy is teaching them to develop resilience. There’s a number of ways to do that as a leader.

“When we are happy—when our mindset and mood are positive—we are smarter, more motivated, and thus more successful. Happiness is the center, and success revolves around it.” Shawn Anchor, The Happiness Advantage

Be a Calming Influence

Have you ever had a boss who was upbeat and excited one minute and then stressed and annoyed in the next? 

When a deal goes through, their energy is off the charts. And that feels great for a time. But when things start to crumble, so does their mood (and the moods of everyone in the office).

Whether you emit a super-charged aura or a negative one, you put your team on edge. So, over the years I’ve learned that when something great happens or something bad happens, I try to keep my response measured. That way, my team isn’t fearful of me (or prone to hide problems) when things go poorly. Don’t get me wrong, I do get excited for the good things and celebrate successes but it’s about being measured.

When you establish a baseline level of calm and balance with the people who work for you, they know they can approach you with tough conversations.

Beyond that, resilience comes from not being too attached to any outcome, good or bad. So, by demonstrating measured responses for the team, you’re modeling a form of resilient behavior for them, too. 

Set (And Don’t Move) the Goalpost

When I talk about concentrating on happiness as a leader, a lot of people will say, “Yeah, but surely you’ve got to be able to have tough conversations.”

The key is to set ground rules and expectations early on, which paves the way for when you must hold someone’s feet to the fire.

So your team understands what it must do, clearly communicate and reinforce your core values. Also, what kind of work ethic and activity level do you expect?

You’ve got to define those expectations at the beginning, so you’re not constantly changing or revising the rules. Because whenever you change the rules, you add a layer of negativity. Instead, you want to be that leader who purely inspires your team.

So, I don’t micromanage. I expect people to work hard because they should be motivated and striving to improve themselves. That’s what I’m looking for when I hire people. 

Once you get those people on board, because they are self-motivated, your job simply becomes to keep them happy so they continue to succeed. You will still have to have tough conversations -however, it is easier because  you have already set expectations so the groundwork is there and all of a sudden they are more impactful because they are more rare. 

The most important values I’ve tried to encourage (by example) are openness and honesty.

Be Open With Your Team

My team knows everything about me, or at least nearly everything! 

I wasn’t always like this, but a few years back something happened. My daughter was diagnosed with type 1  diabetes and then very soon after my wife was diagnosed with cancer. So, all these things happening in my private life impacted the way I thought about work. And that changed me a lot.

I began to take the mindset that bad things happen, and that’s just a part of life—it’s how we respond to them that matters.

So, if a big deal falls through, I’m not the manager who’s going to explode at a rep. Instead, I’ll give them some time to process it. Then we’ll discuss what we learned from it, what we could have done differently, and what we’ll do next time.

In that way, resilience accumulates from not succumbing to panic. Resilience also gives you the awareness to acknowledge that something is bad, and the fortitude to carry on regardless.

The worse things you can do are blow up or ignore a bad situation—make sure you don’t do either of these.

I’d go so far as to say, this is where a “screw it” mentality comes in very handy. Opportunities in work and life come and go, so don’t hold on to failures too tightly. If you’re viewing opportunities  through the lens of abundance, you’ll be ready to tackle the next one that comes your way, so long as you’ve learned from the failure. 

Encouraging the openness to talk about these things is helping my team develop resilience

Maybe some of this attitude comes from my door-to-door sales experience (many moons ago), where your mindset impacted your next sale and you accepted the “no’s” because it meant you were closer to a “yes.” 

All of this doesn’t mean that I don’t have tough conversations with my team…I do! However, I really believe that because the expectations are set early and that my usual manner is one of calmness, when I do have tough conversations they are actually more impactful.

Set Mental, Emotional, Physical, and Spiritual Rituals and Check-Ins

In their book The Power of Full Engagement, authors Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz discuss the concept of the High Performance Pyramid.

It’s a management theory that focuses on rituals to keep the mind, body, and spirit healthy. It asserts that each area of influence is connected to the rest. Mind and body intertwine in ways we take for granted. So, to be as resilient as you can, you need to nurture your mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health simultaneously. 

Here’s one small example: When faced with a critical moment, it’s easy for our body to tense up, which affects our ability to deal with a crisis. Breathing deeply and positive visualization ease tension and get us unstuck at times like these. But so often we forget about the influence the body has on our mental state.

That being said, I encourage my team to nurture all four areas. I also check in with them frequently to ensure they aren’t neglecting that.

During some team meetings we have a mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual (MEPS) check-in, depending on what’s happening lately. I ask people to assess their current state in each of those areas to see if they’re in a good place.

Are they doing the exercise they need to do? Are they taking time away from work to do activities that enrich them spiritually and promote resilience?

If we’re going through a particularly stressful time, like Q4, I’ll do MEPS check-ins with the team more frequently.

And now that COVID-19 has forced us all to stay home, MEPS check-ins have become even more important. So, we’re having virtual lunch on Wednesdays, beers at four o’clock on Fridays, and a 30-minute stand up every morning.

In that stand up, every person shares what they did yesterday and what their plans are today. But they also talk about what they are doing for themselves whether it’s exercise, time out, playing an instrument, spending time with loved ones, or whatever they choose. That way we can hold each other accountable for keeping our minds and bodies healthy.

During normal times, we discuss MEPS concepts during one-to-ones too. My first question is always, “How are you?” Typically, people will say that work is going well. Then I’ll redirect the conversation to ask, “But what about you? Are you happy at work? How are you doing as a person?” 

As the Happiness Officer, that’s my job and I consider it an honour. As a leader, would you make it your job, too?

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