Insights & Ideas

Getting real about resilience with Salo’s Amy Langer

Resilience isn’t a new concept. So, why is it so important in today’s world?

People have been thinking about resilience for thousands of years. Socrates philosophized about it in 470 BC. In 1888, Friedrich Nietzsche famously wrote, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” During World War II, Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” However, after a full year of pandemic challenges and quarantine, resilience is a hotter topic than ever.

Amy Langer, one of Salo’s founders, has been leading the charge for resilience for years. In this interview, we get her insights about personal, professional, and corporate resilience in today’s world. (Rather listen? Amy recently talked about resilience on the Structural Podcast (Episode 4).)

How do you define resilience? And, how is resilience different from grit and determination?

Resilience is not only about withstanding a difficult time—that includes fortitude, toughness, and grit. But resilience is more about how you can come back from that challenge quickly—how elastic you are. Resilience is not, in my opinion, about whether you can forge through something, but how you do it. Do you get through it battered and put down? Or, do you get through it with a positive slant in the end?

Resilience is not in my opinion, about whether you can forge through something, but how you can do it.

I saw a live interview with Billie Jean King, and she talks about this a lot. She and her fellow tennis players were all trained by the same coaches, they traveled together, they practiced together. So, why was Billie Jean better than others? She said what gave her an edge was her ability to come back from a loss even seconds faster than her opponent. That has stuck with me. I think about how quickly snapping back provides an advantage.

Is resilience a natural trait or something you learn?

Some people are innately more resilient, but I definitely feel resiliency is a skill you can learn and practice. It’s a mental attitude, and just deciding to be resilient is a lot of it. There were times in my life when I felt like I was forced to be resilient. As I continued to mature in my journey, I started to be more intentional about how I wanted to be when hardships happen. Deciding how I was going to handle setbacks helped me face them when they arrive, and they always arrive.

For example, salespeople—including me—have times where they are emotionally bought into a mindset like, “I want to win this deal. I’ve got to win this.” What I have seen that sets apart the good from the great salespeople over time is those who take the loss, pause to reflect, and then figure out how to pivot next time instead of beating themselves up. They ask questions like: What did I learn? How would I do that differently next time? Did I do the best I could, knowing what I knew at the time?

An important part of resilience is reflecting with an attitude of constant improvement versus reflecting with an attitude of disgrace, shame, or blame. Being gracious to yourself that you were resilient at the time because if something similar happens again, you can be like, “Wait, I’ve got this. I’ve done it before.”

I can see this in myself when I compare the recession in 2009 to the setbacks during the pandemic. The difference in my emotions now and from 2009 is unbelievable. In 2009, I was concerned and scared because I hadn’t experienced the situation. I was unsure even how we would make it through. During the setback last year, I was like, okay, we’ve done this before. We’ve got this. We know what to do and how to pivot.

What’s your advice for people who don’t always feel resilient?

You don’t always feel resilient in the moment when you’re facing a challenge. Sometimes you just need some time to recover and reflect. When I look back on many different setbacks in my life, I can now see that there were positives that came out of those situations that I didn’t notice at the time. Those positive things wouldn’t have happened without the setback.

For example, after college I was an auditor for KPMG, and I flunked the CPA exam twice. All my friends were passing with flying colors. I got sad and depressed, but it caused me to reflect and realize that natural technical accounting ability was harder for me than it was for them. They were really, really good at it, and I had different strengths. I got an accounting degree to be in business, but I didn’t love the actual work of accounting. So, I started thinking about how to use my strengths and education in another way, which eventually led to founding Salo. (By the way, I did end up passing the exam the third time.)

Also, awareness of yourself and what’s happening in your life when you encounter a hardship is critical to appreciating how resilient you really are. I’m less resilient when I’m not feeling well or someone in my family is hurting. I’m less resilient when I had to deal with four major issues in one week. It’s easier to be resilient when you have a job you love and it’s harder if you’re stuck doing something you don’t like. Resilience can’t be looked at in a vacuum.

Why is it important to cultivate a culture of resilience in an organization?

We are all better when we don’t get stuck in our own minds. At Salo, we try to be a place where you cannot only grow professionally but you can grow personally. If you’re in a safe spot in your team, it helps you feel more confident. You realize you’re not alone, and it helps you be more resilient. I’m thinking about one of our teams that is especially good at supporting one another. When one is down, they’re not all down—they support each other in a professional manner.

Also, we try to cultivate a culture that values continual learning, including learning from mistakes. We can acknowledge that something went awry. From there, we ask each other, what do we do from here? We’ve built a structure and a culture with our mission, vision, and values that allow us to have those conversations.

If we are modeling resilience at the office, people can be more resilient in their personal lives as well. And then, luckily, it’s a circle—they are better able to contribute to the team and to the company.

As a leader, is it hard to model resilience all the time?

It can be. Once, we had a top performer who left Salo. I think she was just in a place where the organization was going through some change, and she just wasn’t ready to take on that change. It was really hard for me. Salo needed her. I saw the potential of who she could be and what she could be. And I felt like Salo was a great place for her.

I paused for a moment and thought, “How am I going to deal with this?” As a leader, it was a challenge on two levels: First, there was personal resiliency. I had to determine how to handle that rejection. And there was also having organizational resilience to get over losing a top performer. We had to determine whether our systems and processes would be able to maintain our work and grow from that setback.

After she left, we stayed in communication. It took a couple of years, but she came back to Salo, continued to be a superstar, and has risen in management. I don’t think it would have been the same outcome for the organization, for me, or for her, if she had stayed the entire time. We all learned, developed, and grew from the experience.

As a leader, how do you help others learn resilience?

I think the most important thing is being calm in the moment when somebody else is in the middle of the storm. Or, maybe a better analogy is: someone is in a pool and they’re getting splashed. I can see it from afar and go, “Hey, actually, if you just move two feet to the left, you wouldn’t get splashed anymore.” I can see it because I have a different perspective than they do in the moment. Over time, I’ve gotten better at not being drawn into the emotions others are having in the moment, and providing a perspective that they might not have while they are going through it.

I also have people in my life that do that for me. Sometimes I ask my confidants, friends, and business mentors, “Should I not be crazy about this situation? or Is this a reasonable emotion?” They acknowledge my feelings, get curious, offer perspective, and then push me to decide what I’m going to do about it.

Since the concept of “resilience” has become popular in business, will the next generation of businesspeople will be more resilient?

I hope so. I love that, even at a university level, we are talking about emotional intelligence and how you handle situations, what to do when facing hardships, etc. I think resiliency is part of that emotional intelligence—being aware of yourself and intuitive about situations.

But, even if I know something exists, it doesn’t mean I’m good at it or practice it. There are so many learnings each of us gains through setbacks as we progress in our work and professional careers. So, I think having awareness earlier in your career is awesome, but there are still things you just have to learn by doing.

Amy Langer is co-founder of Salo and board member for several organizations, including Health Partners and Greater MSP Partnership.

At Salo, we match senior HR, finance, and accounting experts with organizations that need their help (on a contingent, project, or permanent basis). Contact us to learn more.

Amy Langer photo
Amy Langer photo

Amy Langer