Sheryl Sandberg’s article in the New York Times’ Sunday Review (on April 24th 2017) is an important piece for all parents trying to build resilient kids in a rapidly changing, disruptive world.
Sheryl’s article was written from the perspective of tragedy and loss after her husband Dave Sandberg, died suddenly from a cardiac arrhythmia two years ago, while they were on vacation in Mexico.
Most of us as parents are preoccupied with raising kids that are independent, self-motivated are self-starters that can persevere and bounce back from adversity. These are also key critical leadership competencies that all kids will need to have in order to succeed in a fast-paced world where innovation and disruption can wipe out jobs or make some industries obsolete in a matter of months.
These attributes are not only needed in order to bounce back after life-altering tragedy like the death of a parent or spouse, but also to overcome the minor losses in life like job loss and disappointment from failure. According to data from the World Economic Forum, it is estimated that some 65% of children entering primary schools today will likely work in roles that don’t currently exist.
It is also expected that the pace of change in the job market will start to accelerate by 2020. Office and administrative functions, along with manufacturing and production roles, will see dramatic declines accounting for over six million roles over the next four years. Conversely, business and financial operations along with computer and mathematical functions will see steep rises. New technologies will cause steep job losses in some sectors and industries. Building a resilient labour force will therefore be critical with such rapid technological change.
Sheryl’s piece resonated with me on many levels as a parent, because at 31, I also lost my husband tragically to a rare disease. I was suddenly faced with the prospect of raising two boys alone and became preoccupied with building their resilience to withstand further losses that would inevitably come down the road.
While its impossible to shield our kids from the inevitable – we can play an important role in ensuring that we equip them with the tools to overcome adversity – which will also no doubt serve them well in an era where life altering changes will affect every aspect of their lives.
Sandberg offers strategies to build the “resilient muscle” in kids such as “mattering” and “companioning”. Mattering is the belief that other people notice you and care about you. As a parent we can ensure that our kids know they matter by spending time quality time with them. Companioning is walking alongside them and listening to their needs – and building effective, open communication. Beyond the strategies that Sandberg offers in her article are others that are also necessary in adulthood. Tragedy and loss as well as failure and setbacks have a way of spurring action as a result of the need to overcome a particular situation – that can result in many different positive outcomes.
Building resilient kids presents the opportunity to arm them with different tools in their toolbox for responding to change by knowing how and when to use different tools to overcome a challenge. Each experience serves to build their arsenal of different tools and to solidify their experience for knowing how to respond and which tools to use.
Tragedy and loss such as the death of a parent or spouse, means having to adjust to sudden, unexpected change, as well as patience, flexibility and endurance to cope through life-altering transitions. These are some of the very skills needed by leaders in an era of innovation and change. It demands that we leave our comfort zone and create new experiences. In building resilient kids, parents need to emphasize these skills.
Rosalinde Torres in her TED Talk entitled “What it Takes to Be a Good Leader”, outlines the critical competencies of good leaders in the 2st century. Torres argues that leaders must be flexible, prepared and ready to adapt to new intelligence, data and findings. Leaders must be willing to try new alternative approaches to problem solving and not remain stuck in comfort zones of the past. The key is knowing when change is required and how to monitor for the desired outcomes. There must be a careful balance in weighing when to transition from the past to a new approach. She also emphasizes the diversity of our networks as a powerful indicator of the strength of a leader.
Positive mentors can bring kids invaluable role models and help them build the diversity of their networks – exposing them to positive experiences that also serve to strengthen their resilience muscles and sharpening their problem-solving skills. Effective leaders are constantly learning how to strengthen their networks so they can not only leverage them for advice and strategies, but also for career success.
In building resilient kids, recognizing that each setback can serve to equip kids with adequate coping skills and therefore a more diverse toolbox will be invaluable in a rapidly changing world. Author and parenting expert Jessica Lahey, in her book entitled “The Gift of Failure”, argues that kids actually need failure in order for them to learn to deal with the “failures that happen out there, in the real world, that carry far higher stakes.”
Just as economies suffer external shocks as a result of a downturn in one particular sector or industry, so too, families will suffer shocks that serve to alter the familial landscape in a permanent way. Building resilient kids that grow up to be leaders in their communities demands that we purposefully and intentionally arm them with the skills that will serve them well in adulthood. Sheryl Sandberg has opened up a critical conversation about resilience not only for those suffering from the immediate fallout from tragedy and loss – but also as this article points out the skills and emotional requisites that kids will need as future leaders in the 21st century.