The Importance of Leadership Resilience
By Shelley Winter
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, leaders are seeing the effects of chronic stress across their organizations. Emotions are frayed, energy is lagging, and distractions are high while employees endure ambiguity about the future. Wanting to address employees’ concerns and reassure them, leaders feel pressure to bolster others’ resilience, but they should not underestimate the importance of their own leadership resilience. It is important that leaders maintain good habits and make positive lifestyle choices because this will have a ripple effect across the organization. Following are leadership resilience development strategies to help executives navigate prolonged periods of uncertainty and model good self-care and adaptation habits.
Fostering Leadership Resilience
- Revisit assumptions about leadership resilience. Many leaders hold unhelpful beliefs about resilience which limit their ability to make good choices and positively influence others. Leaders may assume they are resilient, that they will be fine and push through any circumstance. But, leadership resilience is not innate or inherent to an executive title. Resilience strategies are a result of the choices people make every day, the way they respond to their environment, and how they interact with others. Leaders need to actively maintain their resilience levels; yet they often stop making good choices when they need to most.
- Do not try to be a superhero. Not feeling resilient is not a sign of weakness. Every leader is being tested right now. There is a sense of everyone being in this together, but each person has their own combination of pressures and worries. While it can be helpful to put a positive spin on individual realities (e.g., “We are lucky we can still go outside each day”), it is important leaders allow themselves space to acknowledge what they are struggling with or what they have personally lost in the pandemic. Failing to process emotions takes up precious mental space and results in a decreased ability to focus.
- Ask for help. Acknowledge where you need support and ask for it. Identify whether you need practical support—someone to help you think through a problem—or if you need help processing worries about family, work, or other parts of your life. Vocalizing feelings with a trusted friend or colleague helps process the emotion and decrease its impact.
- Create structure. Everyone is adjusting to significant upheaval and adapting to massive amounts of change. Adding structure to the day brings certainty when there is chaos to manage; structure also makes it easier to create good habits and decrease toll on the brain by eliminating the number of decisions leaders need to make. For instance, dedicating specific blocks of time each day to respond to email frees space to fully focus on other projects without interruption.
- Pause for a new perspective. In a crisis, and especially when the future is unknown, leaders are at risk of responding to everything in a reactive way. Every matter is not urgent. Talk through solutions with others to slow down, become more flexible in your thinking, foster creativity, and banish doubt.
- Establish boundaries for yourself. While remote work and distance learning have significantly blurred lines between work and home, it is still essential to create boundaries. Consider using exercise to transition between work elements of the day. Engaging in physical exercise, a hobby or meditation helps the brain shift attention and “switch off” for the day.
- Replace bad habits. To curb bad habits, create a “when-then” statement to redirect attention. For example, “when” you find yourself reading the news, “then” set a timer to limit minutes spent on this activity. Or, “when” you find yourself reacting to everything in your inbox, “then” step back and consider a different approach.
Model Resilience-Building Behaviors
It is important leaders take care of themselves and impart those learnings to others on their team. A leader who shares their journey and helps others find their way is not only leading with authenticity, they are fostering a psychologically safe culture where employees feel heard and valued. Here are some ways to channel learnings:
- Share your self-care strategies. Teams notice if leaders send emails on weekends or late at night, and as a result may assume long hours or not attending to family are encouraged. They will not know you make time to attend a virtual yoga class, go for a run with your child, or practice a mindfulness meditation if you do not share this with them. Sharing ways you are managing energy and balancing family demands encourages others to prioritize accordingly.
- Recognize the COVID-19 experience is different for everyone. Create space in team meetings for people to share how they are feeling. This does not need to be “group therapy.” Instead, conduct a brief check-in to acknowledge the challenges of the present situation, and allow people to connect with one another before they dive into the agenda.
- Share your vulnerabilities. Being vulnerable with your team and sharing your own personal challenges related to stay-at-home orders or family matters (save concerns about business for trusted peers or a coach to avoid raising alarm among the team) makes it safe for others to voice their worries. If you pretend you are fine, they may pretend, too. You might miss opportunities to support them which may turn into bigger issues over time.
In a time when freedoms are restricted, the choices leaders make become even more crucial to their well-being and have a ripple effect on colleagues, friends, and families. Leaders should set the tone around the new normal by sharing the positive choices they make to foster resilience and good habits.
Shelley Winter is global head of thought leadership and solution design at YSC Consulting, the world’s premier independent provider of leadership strategy services. Shelley leads a team of consultants, researchers and solution architects to create new thinking and identify leadership insights to support client teams. www.ysc.com