Resilience: Lessons from Tom Daley

Resilience is an important skill. It is the ability to recover from difficulties, to be able to withstand adversity, bounce back and continually improve. Luckily, because it is a skill, it is something that we can learn and hone.

In the workplace, resilience can be seen at play when employees are dealing with heavy workloads, difficult colleagues, or troubling times in their personal lives.

It is a vital skill and as the resilient among us are better able to manage stress, they are at less risk of suffering from mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

The past 18 months have certainly tested the resilience of millions of us around the world. The pandemic put all of us in a unique situation, to say the least, that hasn’t been seen on a scale like this in modern history.

It has been very tough on many of us and as we have navigated and adapted to our new ways of living in every facet of our lives, we have had to be extremely resilient in many ways in the face of huge change.

The Tokyo Olympics provided a welcome escape from all of that and this year Team GB smashed it, winning a total of 65 medals and finishing in 4th place.

One of those medallists was Tom Daley who, after competing in four Olympic Games, finally got his hands on that Gold medal after 20 years of training.

In 2005 when he was 11 years old, Tom Daley told the BBC “I want to get to the Olympics and win a gold medal”.

Daley continued “If I wasn’t to win, it would drive me on to be at the next Olympics and get that medal then.” Daley’s drive and continuous improvement throughout his diving career paid off 16 years later when he finally reached his ultimate goal of scoring Gold.

Through the many highs of his career, Tom has also experienced some lows. His father passed away when he was 17 years old and didn’t get to see him win any of his Olympic medals over the years. He also came out as gay after years of turmoil and bullying. He is one of the very few sportsmen to have done so.

Tom is now a father himself and has said he finds it “crazy” to see how “focused and obsessed” he was when he was younger, noting that if his son was talking like that at the same age: “I’d be like ‘wow, calm down, take your time, enjoy it.’ But clearly, there was just something in me that wanted it so much.”

So, what can we learn from Tom’s story, and what can you implement to welcome more resilience into your life and work?

  1. Take breaks throughout the day. We all experience ups and downs of energy and productivity while at work. If you are starting to feel sluggish and you’ve read the same line 5 times over, it’s likely time to take a break. Detaching from our work for short periods promotes greater energy, focus, and clarity resulting in an increase in our resilience over the course of the day which will of course compound over time.
  2. Prioritising your wellbeing is essential. Ensuring we eat well, move regularly, and look after our mental health will all contribute to building resilience. As will having a strong support network of people in and outside the office.
  3. Ask for help if you need it. It can be easy to get overwhelmed at work when we are feeling the pressure of responsibility, especially if there might be things going wrong. If you are feeling the strain remember you don’t have to suffer alone. You will likely have a support network in your organisation, so ensure you speak to someone who can provide guidance.
  4. Embrace change. Being flexible and adaptable in the face of change is an essential element of resilience. Change can happen often in workplaces, with colleagues leaving and new ones coming in, companies deciding to restructure, new procedures being put in place. Being open to change presents a chance to get outside your comfort zone, and can present new opportunities.
  5. And finally, acknowledge when something hasn’t gone quite to plan. We have been conditioned to believe that failure is wrong or bad and as such, we fear making mistakes. However, when we view failure as a stepping stone to success, or towards our goals, we build resilience by learning and growing from it.

We all face tough challenges during our lives and often in the workplace. If we see these as opportunities to keep learning, growing, and adapting, there is no other option but to keep moving forward and ultimately become more resilient.

The lean philosophy sees failure as a way to fuel better results. If you are interested in building resilience with Lean Thinking and practice in your organisation, why not look at our Lean Six Sigma Training Course where we help you learn the Lean Six Sigma principles, tools and methods.