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Ama Marston and Stephanie Marston on Type R: An interview by Bob Morris

Ama Marston is an entrepreneur, internationally recognized strategy and leadership expert, and the coauthor of TYPE R: Transformative Resilience for Thriving in a Turbulent World. (Hachette book Group; 2018). She has worked on five continents with global leaders like Mary Robinson and Joseph Stiglitz, FTSE Index and Fortune 500 companies, the United Nations, Oxford University, NGOs, and numerous others. Ama has contributed to and been featured in the Guardian, the New York Times, Forbes, Investors Business Daily, Harvard Business Review, Nasdaq and Cheddar among others. She was one of the opening speakers at the 2018 South by Southwest Conference and has presented at numerous thought leadership venues such as Silicon Valley’s Watermark Conference, the United States’ largest women’s conference, alongside leaders like Madeleine Albright, as well as Seattle Town Hall and the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.

 

 

Stephanie Marston is a veteran psychotherapist with more than thirty years experience and is an internationally recognized resilience and work-life expert. She is the coauthor of TYPE R: Transformative Resilience for Thriving in a Turbulent World. Stephanie has appeared frequently on radio and television including The Oprah Show, The Today Show, and CNN’s “Headline News”. Stephanie is the founder of “30 Days to Sanity”, a stress and work/life online platform. She has served on the WebMD clinical advisory board. She has also assisted Fortune 500 companies, global corporations, women’s and health-care organizations, and professional associations in reducing employee stress, increasing productivity, and creating a culture of satisfaction in the workplace. Some of her clients include Whirlpool Corporation, Xerox Corporation, Morgan Stanley, and The Mayo Clinic. Stephanie is also the mother of Type R coauthor Ama Marston.

Their highly acclaimed book, Type R: Transformative Resilience for Thriving in a Turbulent World, was published by PublicAffairs/Hachette Group (2018).

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The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Stephanie: The pioneering family therapist Virginia Satir was my mentor. Her work on systems theory significantly influenced my thinking not only on how families work, but how organizations and communities best function as well.

Ama: My mother has been a lifelong role model for me as someone who has continued to evolve, break boundaries and innovate as well as being an unwavering advocate for me. That said, working with Mary Robinson broadened my horizons immensely —  she became one of the only female senators in Ireland at age 25 and later went on to become the first female President. She is a formidable advocate on a range of economic and social issues. And she has raised a family and nurtured a career as an equal with her husband with whom she studied at law school. Though I don’t have political ambitions, it changed the lens for me in terms of envisioning what was possible in my career, my thinking about the ways in which I contribute to issues of economic, social and global significance, as well as the kind of personal life I create for myself.

Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Stephanie: When Ama was a toddler, we were in a horrific car accident. I broke my back and both legs and wasn’t expected to walk again. I had to fight to regain the physical strength I had always assumed I could count on, and in the process, something within me had been fundamentally changed. I knew that I had to start truly living. I discovered a renewed sense of compassion and appreciation, and a desire to make a contribution to the lives of others. And so the accident planted the seed for my future career as a psychotherapist, with a focus on helping people deal with stress.

Ama: In 2012 I hurt my back after one of the most stressful periods of my life, juggling family illness, the impacts of the financial crisis as a new business owner and growing immigration pressures, among other things. I found myself alone living overseas and having to rest and rebuild for several months. I was forced to let go of control, adapt, and rebuild while my back healed. I had to take the time to ask, ‘What’s most important to me and what do I want next?’ And in the process I had new insights about the extent to which what we offer to the world in terms of leadership, our work in businesses and international organizations, and the way we engage in large global challenges like climate change has to start with ourselves.

Recent research indicates that, on average, less than 30% of employees in a U.S. company are actively and productively engaged. The others are either passively engaged (“mailing it in”) or actively disengaged, undermining the success of their organization? How do you explain this situation? What’s the problem?

Ama & Stephanie: While not the only factor, a significant contributor is the extent to which many of our workplaces and organizations and thus employees have lost a deeper sense of purpose. Whether or not people feel that they are making a contribution to something larger that they believe in and that aligns with their values is reflected in engagement. This is particularly true for younger people and Millennials who rate “purpose” as being of equal if not greater importance than finance in terms of what will attract them to and keep them happy in a job. Additionally almost half of them have chosen not to undertake a task at work because it went against their personal values or ethics, according to Deloitte research. This increases to 61% among those in senior positions.

A lack of engagement can also be a sign of employees being neglected, underutilized or not having their skills be further developed. For instance 63% of Millennials say their leadership skills are not being fully developed and it contributes to them having one foot out the door.

In your opinion, what specifically must be done immediately to increase the percentage of actively and productively engaged employees?

Ama & Stephanie: Build purpose into the core of people’s jobs as opposed to giving them a day to do pro-bono volunteer work one day a year. It’s also important to provide people with the larger vision– allow them to see how their jobs contribute to a larger whole and what they are building or how it will change people’s lives and it will motivate them in whole new ways.

Making people feel valued is also crucial and pays dividends in times of crisis in terms of their loyalty and willingness to stay in the boat when it starts rocking. This includes having face time with the boss and being given stretch-roles that give them responsibility and allow them to further develop more so than just financial incentives.

Looking ahead (let’s say) 3-5 years, what do you think will be the greatest challenge that CEOs will face? Any advice?

Ama & Stephanie: Research shows that over 50% of CEOs have experienced more than two crises in the past three years. These leaders expect that this will only increase in the next few years. The sheer amount of pressure that CEOs are under and the amount of disruptive change they face, often confronting 21st century challenges they haven’t dealt with before, is among the greatest challenges and will continue to grow as a problem for leaders.

First and foremost, research increasingly shows that our mindsets form the foundation for our ability to be successful, learn and grow from setbacks. Leaders should reflect on when something difficult happens if they are inclined to catastrophize or to believe they have the ability to weather this and draw something positive from it.

Get comfortable with uncertainty. If you haven’t had practice with this organically in your life start practicing on a small scale. Think about what your comfort level is with risk and uncertainty by reflecting on the lessons you learned about them from your family or the larger culture starting with the basics as a child or young adult. Then ask how this might affect your current instinctual response to uncertainty or risk when it arises. Is there something you can do differently the next time a situation comes up where the outcome is uncertain rather than defaulting to your normal response?

The notion of the all-knowing leader is also a thing of the past in the face of our challenges. And yet ‘expert-leadership’ is still among one of the most common leadership styles- drawing heavily on the notion that CEOs can primarily lead with technical knowledge. Collaboration, crowd-sourcing ideas, navigating relationships and people dynamics, iterative thinking and continual learning all are increasingly important and are interwoven with Type R skills and our ability to transform challenges into opportunities.

Now please shift your attention to Type R. For those who have not as yet read it, hopefully your responses to these questions will stimulate their interest and, better yet, encourage them to purchase a copy and read the book ASAP. When and why did you decide to write it, and do so in collaboration?

Ama & Stephanie: After a handful of years that were particularly challenging for both of us personally and professionally our conversations began to crystalize into the idea for this book. This book is a culmination of our personal and professional interests and significant expertise in how stresses have converged in a unique and challenging way and yet why so many people don’t just cope with, but grow from adversity.

For both of us, in times of crisis, change, and stress, inaction was not an option. We knew we had to adapt and evolve. But we’ve also come to the conclusion that while resilience is important, it’s not enough. There’s no going back to who or where we were before challenging times. “Bouncing back” is not only a poor choice, it’s often not possible. For us it was clear that the only choice was to use these challenges to our advantage and continue to grow.

Briefly, what are the most significant differences between “the realities we’re living today” and those (let’s say) 10-15 years ago?

Ama & Stephanie: The world has dramatically changed from the one the Boomers were born into. Now the challenges we face are often not just personal, but global. Ama’s generation, Gen X, as well as Millennials have been impacted by the ubiquity of digital technology and social media along with the multiple crises—global terrorism, climate change and the financial crisis–that have shaped the way they experience everyday events and have sent shock waves through all aspects of their lives. Inequality is also increasing significantly, posing challenges for many and contributing to growing extremes in politics and the rise of trends like populism and anti-immigrant sentiment.

In your opinion, why do so many “past approaches to resilience no longer work”?

Ama & Stephanie: With the challenges we face, we need a new generation of thinking—one that brings with it a fresh focus not only on coping with an ever-changing and turbulent world, but on undergoing a transformation that makes us better able to thrive in this new reality.

Most people say after a difficult situation, “I can’t wait to get back to normal,” but the reality is that that normal no longer exists. And the notion of bouncing back as referred to in traditional resilience is not only a poor choice, but often isn’t possible. There often is no going back following significant stresses, upheaval and crises — there’s only moving forward and using challenges to learn & grow.

The difference between those who fold and those who flourish in such situations is not resilience in the traditional sense of the word, but one better suited for these tumultuous times—Transformative Resilience, the ability to turn challenge into opportunity and spring forward.

What are the defining characteristics of the Type R mindset?

Ama & Stephanie: Through our research and our years of experience with everyone from friends, co-workers and family members to world leaders and corporations, we’ve found that there are common characteristics and skills that support the mindset of Type Rs- the individuals, leaders, businesses, families and even communities that turn challenges into opportunities and create Transformative Resilience. The six characteristics are, adaptability, healthy relationship to control, continual learning, sense of purpose, leveraging support, and active engagement.

Which skills must be mastered in order to develop that mindset?

Ama & Stephanie: As we previously alluded to with respect to leaders, the most important skill is the ability to reframe and shift the way we view adversity, challenges, and stress. This means identifying the default frame or lens through which we view things. Are we negative, positive, fearful or inquisitive when something difficult happens? The starting point for any change is to identify our existing mindset (which for groups is closely linked to organizational culture) and our default modes of operating.

It’s also important to call upon stories that remind us of times when we successfully navigated difficulties — whether as a team, a business, a family, or even an entire nation. These stories bolster confidence. They also may provide insights on what worked or was helpful even if that means finding lessons and skills that are transferable between different contexts or circumstances. But keep in mind that no matter who we are or what our abilities are today, we can always increase them tomorrow.

How specifically do Type Rs differ significantly from everyone else when a major crisis develops unexpectedly?

Ama & Stephanie: The major difference in how Type Rs approach a crisis or stress is that they view the situation as an opportunity for learning, growth, and innovation. This is not to say they don’t take some time to acknowledge setbacks, but they don’t get caught in rumination. What defines Type R is an attitude that embraces uncertainty and accepts–even welcomes–change, failure, and disruption with the recognition that wisdom and progress are often born from adversity and failure.

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Ama and Stephanie cordially invite you to check out the resources at these websites:

Type-r-resilience link

Ama Marston link

Stephanie Marston link

 

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