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Quick guide to personal resilience for leaders

Insight

18 March 2019

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Your success as a leader, and whether you survive or thrive at the top, is highly influenced by your personal resilience.

Personal resilience is an ability to perform at your best over a sustained period, even in the face of intense pressure. This includes an ability to bounce back after an adverse event.

Within resilience there are two elements, proactive and reactive, and both take effort to develop. Examples of what proactive and reactive resilience look like in practice are covered in this blog.

Situations when resilience is needed

Resilience is most needed when your environment is difficult, especially over prolonged periods. These might be times when you’re facing big problems or obstacles and have to make multiple, perhaps conflicting, decisions. Think leadership change, restructure, high people turnover, dissatisfactory performance, a merger, and so on.

Even seemingly smaller problems need resilience, such as challenging working relationships.

When faced with prolonged periods of stress, the body eventually gives out; research from the American Psychological Association shows that chronic stress causes heart disease, cancer, accidents, and even suicide.

Resilience is therefore essential for your personal health, as well as your ability to perform successfully in your role and as a leader.

Modelling good resilience benefits your people too

As a leader, demonstrating effective personal resilience can positively impact your employees too. Workplace stress and lack of recovery are directly linked to increased sick days, high churn rate, low productivity and relationship breakdowns. Meaning that, from a business perspective, it’s essential to lead by example. (For more insight on the physiological effects of stress and resilience, read Personal Resilience – Stress & Thriving, a Lane4 whitepaper.)

Practical advice for how to be a resilient leader

So, what can you do as a leader to stock up on your resilience reserves, to ensure you stay on the right side of pressure, and even thrive, in the most difficult environments?

Firstly, it is helpful to view resilience as an integral part of your strategy for success. Don’t wait for the tough times. Start addressing your resilience now.

Assess how you react to pressure

Performance psychology says that how you interpret pressure, whether exciting or threatening, is where the path splits. One route is thrive, the other route is burn-out. And much of how we interpret pressure is determined by history, experience and personality.

Below are some typical pressurised work scenarios you may find yourself in. Do a quick self-awareness check - in these situations are you threatened or excited?

  • You’ve taken on a new project which is placing an excessive demand on you and the equipment and technology you need to complete it successfully is missing.

  • Your team is being merged with another which means you have little control over what is happening in your role or organisation.

  • You have been tasked with delivering a project likely to be unpopular amongst stakeholders but don’t receive adequate information or support from your organisation.

  • You are required to constantly navigate poorly functioning relationships and manage conflict because of an ongoing disagreement amongst colleagues.

  • A new role more senior to yours has been formed which means your role and responsibility is unclear and conflicted.

  • Change at your organisation is being poorly managed and communicated but you are expected to present a unified front

 

A useful way to diagnose whether pressurised situations are impacting your resilience is to check your thinking.

Negative thinking can take the form of catastrophising, discounting positive thoughts, making negative predictions and interpreting failure or negative feedback as reflective of your shortcomings.

Negative thinking is an indication you’re in a stressed state. It’s then important to realise you have a choice about the way you think, and that it’s possible to change how you’re responding and how you recover.

How to build proactive resilience

  • Proactive resilience is developed through your mind, body and environment. For example, mind - supportive relationships, meditation; body – exercise, eating healthily; environment – supportive professional network, planned recovery periods in nature. Choose to incorporate resources which build and support you.

How to build reactive resilience

  • Reactive resilience is responding to pressure in the moment by using your personal strategies. For example, taking time away from the situation, re-framing your thinking around it or talking to someone you trust.

Its important to reflect on the kinds of proactive and reactive behaviours and environment which work for you.

Recovery time is important

Being a resilient leader is not about pushing through, driving on relentlessly, gritting your teeth or being hard as nails. Recovery is fundamental. Keep in mind this doesn’t involve screen time or thinking about work outside of work. Recovery is about taking periods of ‘non-doing’, in whichever way works for you.

In the Harvard Business Review, authors Achor and Gielan state ‘just because work stops, it doesn’t mean we are recovering. We ‘stop’ work sometimes at 5pm, but then we spend the night wrestling with solutions to work problems, talking about our work over dinner, and falling asleep thinking about how much work we’ll do tomorrow.’ They say, ‘if you really want to build resilience, you can start by strategically stopping. Give yourself the resources to be tough by creating internal and external recovery periods.’

Healthy lifestyle habits build your resilience for the tough times

Assessing your lifestyle is essential for a resilient leader.

What is the status of your lifestyle right now? Consider what you are doing, or not doing, to keep yourself well. Below is a reminder about the kind of healthy habits you can form to grow your resilience reserves.

And remember, don’t wait for the hard times, start now.

1. Cultivate supportive relationships


2. Factor-in recovery and recharge time during and after intense periods


3. Get quality sleep


4. Regularly exercise: choose something you are motivated by


5. Eat healthily and stop or reduce habits that deplete you: alcohol, smoking, unhealthy snacks

 

As a leader it’s important to know your own personal line between coping and thriving and set an example for what resilience, thriving and success looks like in your team and organisation. This is both through your own lifestyle behaviour and the behavioural skills you champion, model and instil within your organisation.

Remember, resilience is not about pushing through, it’s about a long-term strategy which you can start now.

 

How many examples of proactive and reactive resilience from our quick guide were you able to say you do? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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