In the last few months I’ve seen some of the most inspirational human behaviour (and some of the worst). Many of us have discovered the importance of staying connected and doing what we can to feel close to our families, friends and work teams, despite physical distancing and travel restrictions. We are increasingly understanding the fundamental need to be kinder to each other, more forgiving perhaps, and certainly less judgemental about our differences and preferences. (Unfortunately, this is still not always evident at the local supermarket or at a busy road junction!)
The pandemic has, at times, felt more like a productivity contest, with Zoom call after Zoom call, overwhelming amounts of chats and blogs, and increased posting on social media. We feel the challenge of staying relevant and valuable in the new workplace, whilst fighting social pressure to be productive during lockdown, accomplishing all those tasks we haven’t got round to for years. For many of us, this period has been one in which just getting by from one day to the next is an achievement in itself. In fact, there have been times when any suggestion that I needed to do anything more than just survive felt like a slap in the face, and if you’d told me that this pandemic was a golden opportunity to thrive I would have told you where to stick it!
However, after crisis can come a period of recovery and ultimate rebirth. I have accepted that things are different and I have got used to the new way of working and the different family life that goes with this. I have now found myself focusing on what I can do differently, with a new sense of hope for the future and the part I can play in it. I have started asking myself: what do I need to do in order to feel that I am at my best, that I am thriving? Maybe there is an opportunity to come out of this better and stronger after all.
Of course, a sense of thriving is subjective and deeply personal, and therefore the conditions in which we thrive will be different for all of us, depending on our own needs and the situation at the time. It is important that all leaders recognise this.
Just over a year ago, with the help of my colleague and friend Dean Mounsey, I set about exploring the areas that influence whether I feel like I am at my best or not. Together, we developed a framework to help individuals explore what they require in order to thrive. It is also designed to help leaders focus on what their people need in order to be at their best and thrive long-term. For us, thriving can be a life-long journey in itself, and is not about generic actions or demands made on people that guarantee an outcome.
We boiled it down to five areas that can be explored to get closer to what is needed in order to thrive.
1. A sense of belonging: For me, the feeling of being part of something is very influential on my ability to truly thrive. When I don’t feel like I belong, it erodes my sense of worth, confidence and belief in myself. I withdraw and start to go into self-preservation survival mode. People generally need to feel part of something, valued, connected to others and appreciated in order to feel emotionally agile and plentiful enough to take risks, adapt, experiment and grow.
Furthermore, it is not enough for a team to say that a person should belong to them; the person themselves needs to feel this belonging, evidenced in their or others’ actions and words. It is key that, as human beings and/or leaders, we provide the means and encourage the behaviours and actions that cultivate this sense of belonging for others. Constant comparison and competition between individuals can be one of the main ways to erode it.
2. Hope and optimism: Hope is a feeling of expectation or desire for a particular outcome to occur. People are able to develop a sense of hope in singular situations and events, and more importantly, as a long-term approach to life and a key factor in feeling fulfilled and happy. Optimism is more of a mindset and day-to-day behaviour, which involves seeing positive outcomes as permanent, and less desired outcomes as temporary . An overall sense of hope and optimism is a positive motivator to action and progress and helps develop resilience in challenging and uncertain conditions.
3. Having courage: Showing up as your true self – imperfections and all – in all situations and embracing the vulnerability that goes with this takes courage. By doing this you free your potential from negative influences, which in turn can enable you to take risks, experiment and adapt to situations and challenges. You have the courage to do what you want to in order to achieve the desired outcome.
4. Feeling capable: In order to feel like we are thriving, we need to feel capable. This means having what we need in terms of health and wellbeing (having the physical and mental capability to carry out what you are striving for), skills and knowledge (knowing what we need to know and how to do what we ned to do), confidence (believing in ourselves and our abilities), and control (having ownership of what we are doing or setting out to achieve).
5. The right conditions: As human beings, we require a basic set of physical conditions to survive. However, as individuals, we also require the right psychological conditions in order to feel like we can truly be at our best. For example, we need to feel psychologically safe and supported by those around us. The right conditions will be found when and where you feel at your best and able to fully apply yourself, gaining the right balance of challenge and support for growth.
Having less than we need in one or more areas that are important to us can hinder our ability to thrive, which can negatively affect our overall wellbeing and performance. The core areas outlined above are interlinked and interdependent. For example, not having a psychologically safe place in which to operate can have a negative impact on feelings of capability and belonging.
What do you need in order to feel like you can truly thrive? What, as a leader, can you do to help others get what they need in order to thrive?
Greg Bartlett is a Senior Consultant at Impact Australia.
 Martin Seligman, The Hope Circuit, John Murray Press, 2018.