When I think of a resilient leader, I think of someone who is able to bounce back from stressful times. And when I examine the definition of resilience, I see that one aspect of the definition talks about an object that can be bent or twisted and then come back to its original form.
So, what does this have to do with a leader’s resilience? Let me tell you.
Over my 22.5 years of work experience – more than half of that time spent in a leadership position – I have experienced many times of stress and crisis. I was usually very resilient and bounced back.
Unfortunately, about five years ago, I experienced a burn-out and did not bounce back quickly enough and subsequently left my job. I went through a period of depression and self-discovery. Then, knowing I needed not only to bounce back but also re-define who I was, I decided to go back to school.
Interesting enough, five years to the day (there were two leap years), I received my final mark in school and graduated from my Masters Program in October (MA in Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentrated focus in Leadership in the 21st Century). I am now able to look at that date in a positive light.
Now, I hope you never have to experience a burn out like I did to come back better and stronger. I hope instead that this article will help you become that resilient leader your team needs you to be.
“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.” – Steve Maraboli
Before you can support yourself in dealing with your stress, you need to understand the difference between positive and negative stress. Positive stress is the stress that motivates you to do better. It is that stress that allows you to push forward and excel at what you do.
Perhaps you are stressed out because you are undertaking a project that forces you to work outside your comfort zone. Use that stress to push yourself forward into learning more about that project. Find Subject Matter Experts that can help you. Delegate certain parts of the project to make the overall task less daunting. These are some ways you can use positive stress.
Negative stress is the stress that can impede your work and interactions with others. You may not be sleeping well. You may find yourself with less patience; potentially lashing out at co-workers or reacting negatively towards those around you. You may be getting sick more often, or hating going to work… to name just a few things.
There are many reasons you may be stressed. Stress can be caused by physiological reason such as lack of sleep, or even underlying health issues. So, seek advice from your doctor in regards to your physical health. Our bodies change so it is important to ensure you are physically healthy.
If your stress is psychological, you can work on techniques such as mindfulness, anchoring and positive self-talk. Each of these techniques can be an article in itself, but I will introduce them here.
Simply put, mindfulness is being in the moment. It’s focusing on the person or the task at hand.
For instance, when you are speaking with someone but you are thinking about something else, or when you are responding to a person before they are done talking, you are not being mindful. Likewise, if you are doing one thing while thinking of other things you need to do, you are not being mindful either and are less effective.
To truly become mindful, so you can give the present your full attention, do the following:
- Take a break. This may mean asking someone if you could step out of the room for a minute, or – if appropriate – take a few seconds of silence.
- Take a few deep breaths. Clear your mind of everything except the task at hand. If you have the time, take a minute or two to gather your thoughts. Depending on the situation, you may need a few seconds or a few minutes to do this.
- Be in the moment with the person you are talking with or the task you have at hand. Do your best in that moment.
Practice mindfulness whenever you have a chance. When you are on a break, focus on the moment at hand. When you go for a walk, focus on what is around you; what you see, hear, smell, taste and touch. The more you practice mindfulness, the easier it becomes.
“Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.” – Elizabeth Edwards
Anchoring is technique that involves replacing negative feelings with positive ones. For example, if you do not like public speaking because you get nervous, anchoring will help you replace feelings of nervousness with feelings of confidence.
Here is how it is done.
- Figure out which feeling you want to replace (e.g. fear, frustration, nervousness, etc.).
- Decide what feeling do you want to replace it with (confidence, calmness, happiness, etc.)?
- Pay attention to moments when you are feeling the positive emotion. Try to remember that feeling.
- Visualize a scenario when you are feeling the negative emotion (e.g. feeling nervous while speaking publicly).
- Now, exchange the negative feeling with the positive one in your scenario. At the same time, do a discrete non-verbal gesture, such as squeezing your toes together. As you feel the positive emotion, pick a word and say it in your head. When you do both of these things while imagining the positive emotion, you are anchoring a positive feeling to a verbal and a non-verbal action.
- Practice this when you are not in a setting that causes the negative emotion. You need to practice, so that the positive feelings are strongly linked to your word and your non-verbal gesture.
- Now, use this anchoring technique when you feel a little of that negative emotion, but not when you are feeling that negative emotion intensely.
- Over time, you will be able to use this technique in more and more intense situations. However, take baby steps. Get used to triggering your anchor in less intense situations so that you can experience the success of the technique.
If the technique of anchoring interests you, research it further so that you get comfortable with it. It is used in Nero-Linguistic Programming.
The great thing about positive self-talk is that it can be done in any moment and is very internal. When you are having negative thoughts about yourself, you can switch them around into positives. Later, when time allows, you can also explore your negative self-talk and figure out where it stems from.
Here’s how it works.
- You hear that negative voice in your head. For example, “I suck at public speaking!”.
- STOP the negative self-talk. Make a decision to deal with that later.
- Rephrase the negative into a positive. “Public speaking is challenging; however, I will become better with practice.”
- When time permits, examine why public speaking is hard. Perhaps you need more practice. Perhaps you need to learn more about it or take a course. Regardless, if you reframe the negative into a positive, it will be easier to deal with.
Resilience and Self Care
Both short-term and long term, a resilient leader is the leader who takes care of themselves on a daily basis. Whether it is going for a walk, taking a long bath, praying, meditating, spending time with family and friends, etc., self-care means different things to different people.
Recognize when you are stressed. Take time to engage in self-care. If you do not take care of yourself, you will not be a good leader to others.
Asking for Support
Sometimes life or work gets overwhelming. And, you are kidding yourself if you think you can keep home life and work life separate. Or vice versa. Stress in one area spills over into the other.
Ask for support when you need it. Sometimes it is more appropriate to ask your supervisor before your team. When in doubt, ask your supervisor for guidance.
It is also perfectly normal to seek help from a life coach or a counselor. In my experience – both with counseling and coaching – one would seek a counselor if they needed to work through past issues and a life or leadership coach if they wanted to focus on the future.
Either way, do not feel ashamed to seek help. It’s part of being a resilient leader. By helping yourself, you will be better equipped to help your team.
Be a Resilient Leader
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