By Corinne Williams, Senior Vice President, Organisation Solutions
Leading growth can be a thrilling, exhilarating white-knuckle ride constantly stretching leaders outside their comfort zone. Whilst this adrenaline-pumping journey can be exciting, it brings with it plenty of stress and adversity, meaning that the ability to cope, persevere, and bounce back are critical. This boils down to the question, How do leaders sustain focus over the long term, and at the same time remain healthy? Or in short, how do they stay resilient?
Some people are naturally more resilient than others. They remain calm when under pressure and recover quickly from setbacks. Others find it difficult to shake off impediments, which can have a more sustained negative impact on their performance. The positive thing is that whatever tricks or treats our genes, background, and experiences have provided us so far, resilience is not just who we are but what we do. You can develop your resilience by putting in place simple effective routines. Here are a few that are easy to learn and try.
1) Am I still breathing?
Breathing is one of the best ways to reduce stress. Deep, steady breathing physically changes the signals being sent from the brain to the nervous system and reduces the “fight or flight” response. It is one of the best tools to enhance calmness in the face of adversity.
Routine: A few times a day, ask yourself, Am I still breathing?’ and take a few deep, slow breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Anchor this to something you do regularly like checking your phone or standing up, so that each time you do this “anchor” you also intentionally breathe.
2) Reframe Risk of Failure as Experimentation
Resilient leaders aren’t daunted by the prospect of failing. In fact, their “Growth Mindset” helps them see failure as an opportunity to learn rather than as a personal disaster. Unfortunately, an aversion to failure tends to be rather ingrained in the majority of us, so routines that help us interrupt our normal thinking pattern can help.
Routine: Create an experimentation mindset. Notice when you are feeling anxious about a potential failure and take a pause. Tell yourself, let me treat this like I am conducting an experiment. I am going to try something new and observe what happens. This allows you to focus on what you can learn from the experience rather than getting it “right” or “wrong.”
3) Say thank you
Changing your perspective from focusing what is wrong and difficult to what you have to be grateful for has been shown to foster resilience. Those who routinely express gratitude show improved health, well-being, and optimism, all of which are factors in improved resilience.
Routine: Send out three thank you emails on a Friday afternoon. Be sincere and specific in what you are thanking each individual for. This has the added benefit of not only helping you focus on what has gone right rather than wrong, but also will give those who receive them a boost.
4) Ask for help
Resilient leaders build a strong support network around them to lean on when things get tough. They see asking for help as a strength rather than a weakness. This gives them access to huge additional resources in terms of ideas, advice, and perspective.
Routine: When starting something new, ask yourself, Who do I know who is really great at this? Who has done this before? Ask them for their advice or for a few tips or tricks. You’ll be amazed at how much people love to be asked.
5) Focus on what is in your control
When things get really “stuck,” we may be focusing too much on “gravity problems”. These are problems that, like gravity, are unavoidable. In fact, they are no longer problems, they are circumstances or facts. Once you accept this fact, however uncomfortable, you can design your solutions accordingly. Resilient leaders avoid “gravity problems” at all costs. They focus on what they can control and pour time and energy into that.
Routine: Identify “gravity problems”. When faced with a difficult or unexpected situation take a hard look at the situation and identify the factors that you can directly control, influence, or leverage. For example, these may be the budget or team members involved. Differentiate the “gravity problems”, for example the time line for delivery, and spend no energy on this at all.
Whilst it’s possible to identify individuals who are more likely to weather storms well by assessing for resilience, routines like these are helpful to sustaining performance over the long term. The development of personal resilience is about getting the basics in place like good planning, preparation, and self-care. Straightforward, simple but effective.
Corinne Williams is Senior Vice President, Leader Services at Organisation Solutions. She has extensive experience in building organisational capability in global companies. Corinne has deep expertise in leadership development, culture change, and a special focus on executive coaching and assessment. She previously held senior roles at Standard Chartered Bank and Shell. Contact Corinne