Gill Wootton CMgr MCMI rarely thought about resilience when she started work as a PC for Thames Valley Police. When she joined, in the ‘90s, mental wellbeing was not something people thought about: “you just kind of went in, did your job and went home,” she says.
As she climbed the ranks and became responsible for more and more people, her awareness of her team’s resilience grew. As a chief superintendent in organised crime and serious other criminal enterprises towards the end of her time in the police service, there was an incident which deeply affected the people on her team – herself included.
“In times of crisis, it’s not always easy to recognise that you’re under stress… the police service has definitely led the way in terms of a real focus on the wellbeing of people. When traumatic incidents happen that people are involved in, they’re properly debriefed from a wellbeing point of view as well as an operational one.”
Wootton is now a leadership coach, using her experiences to help others to achieve their full potential. Here are some lessons on how to build resilience and bounce back ability from one of the highest pressure environments you can work in.
Outsource your resilience
It’s not always easy to know when you’re under pressure, especially at the start of your career, so having a network around you can help. Spend time building relationships with your colleagues and superiors, and if you see that someone is struggling, make sure you offer some help – they will return the favour.
Having someone ‘spot’ for you will also help you to see the situation from a different perspective, which will help you to develop your own resilience. “Be open enough that if you’re becoming a bit wrung out, people will give you a heads up. You aren’t always aware of it yourself,” Wootton says.
Channel your stress productively
When unmanaged, stress can be damaging – but it also can serve a function. When we feel stressed, our bodies are preparing to excel; channel that feeling into a plan of action, create a task list, and go into the situation prepared. If other people are facing the same issue, work together to create a plan.
Learn to think on your feet
Resilience comes down to adaptability – that is, being able to respond quickly to unforeseen factors. This is a key skill within the Police Service: everyone, from frontline police to senior management, are adapting to societal, philosophical and operational issues.
It’s something that you’ll get better at with experience. Look for opportunities to practice it, with guidance from your line manager or a mentor. Tap into their experience to help you develop those skills faster.
Self-awareness can be a beneficial foundation for building resilience, as well as other areas of self-improvement, like bounce back ability. If you know what your strengths and your weaknesses are, you can take a ‘development first’ approach to your work. When you make a mistake or face a difficult situation, you have the knowledge to be able to assess where you can improve or how you could potentially solve the problem.
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