Resilient individuals and teams thrive despite adversity and chronic stress. They adapt easily to change, recover quickly from setbacks, and collaborate effectively with others. I learned this the hard way. In 2003, I was the U.S. Consul in Iraq. Early one October morning a rocket slammed into my hotel room and changed my life forever. In the mayhem, I helped a colleague who was severely injured and got her to safety. I then assisted dozens of other colleagues who had been wounded in the attack, ignoring my fears and blood-covered pajamas. After the rocket attack, I pressed on, disregarding the emotional impact this traumatic event had on me and thinking my symptoms (inability to sleep, irritability, emotional distance) would go away in time.
Several years later, I was still struggling and getting worse. Thanks to a staff member at a wellness resort, I learned that I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Luckily, I received excellent mental health care and fully recovered. This experience inspired me to explore ways I could have prevented my PTSD and to develop strategies for protecting other U.S. diplomats experiencing similar traumatic events.
I discovered a body of research on resilience, which is a state of being that changes continuously based on our surroundings, stress levels, and effective use of resilience skills and tools. I learned many resilience skills and tools. I realized that when leaders cultivate resilience within their teams, their staff are better able to adapt to stress and adversity, are less likely to suffer from burnout, and are more open to change. As a senior government official, I applied what I learned in my workplace and flourished as a leader. The teams I led thrived despite adversity and chronic stress.
I teamed up with colleagues at the National Foreign Affairs Training Center to create the award-winning Center of Excellence in Foreign Affairs Resilience to develop a comprehensive training program for other foreign affairs professionals. We identified key factors that help us be more resilient as individuals, teams, and leaders. We trained U.S. Ambassadors and senior officials across the foreign affairs community, helping them develop resilient teams in order to better achieve U.S. foreign policy goals.