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Are You a Resilient Leader?

March 22, 2017 Susie Kelleher

How would you describe a resilient leader? When I ask this question, similar themes emerge from the answers. Resilient leaders are emotionally composed, even while under attack. They quickly acknowledge obstacles and ask others for input to solve problems. They see obstacles as a path to new possibilities and a way to showcase the talents of others. They are not directive or controlling, but inviting and empowering instead. They do not quiet their opponents with their authority or feel threatened by other perspectives. They don’t fall into a tailspin of reactive tendencies and self-preservation. Instead, they invite different perspectives to inform their own decision making.

Resilient leaders are servant leaders. They are focused, present and engaged in what they are doing and whom they are with. They are never too busy or too important to look you in the eye and give you their full attention. I met someone recently who had the good fortune of meeting Nelson Mandela. He shared that when Mandela spoke it was as if no one else was in the room, even though there were hundreds of people present. This is how leaders inspire others. Take a moment to think about the leaders around you—in your organization, your community, and the world—who embody this approach.

It’s not about toughness
We sometimes confuse resilience with determination or toughness, but it’s not the same. Resilient leaders are tough and determined, but they use their determination for the good of the whole—to empower others, not drive their own agenda. There are a lot of highly determined and tough leaders out there who actually lose great employees and negatively impact outcomes. They drive compliance, not commitment, and are oblivious to the effect they have on others.

Resilient leaders are purposeful. They are dedicated to increasing their self-awareness and growing their resilience throughout their career. They don’t stop when they hit a certain level. They make a lifelong commitment that takes work and diligent focus in order to progress over time.

Resilience is critical to thriving in today’s ever-changing environment. As leaders, we must role-model these behaviors if we hope to have an innovative, engaged and adaptable culture.

Recovery time matters
Resilient leaders don’t tell you how overworked and incredibly busy they are. They don’t wear working 24/7 as a badge of honor. Why? Because that doesn’t create resilience—it creates exhaustion and an inability to control our emotions and bring our best self to the situation. Resilient leaders strategically use the art of stress and recovery. Jim Loehr brilliantly speaks to this in Stress for Success. Stress is critical for any growth we want—whether we’re focusing on a physical or mental muscle—and must be followed by recovery. Unfortunately, we often don’t let our emotional and mental muscles recover the way we do our physical muscles.

Strategic recovery can be as small as one minute of deep breathing or a walk up the stairs, or as big as a two-week vacation. Whatever your recovery technique is, be intentional about it and treat it like any other important event on your calendar. The best athletes in the world are highly resilient—it’s a requirement to be the best. How do they achieve such high standards of excellence? They focus as much energy on their recovery as they do on their training! What forms of recovery do you use throughout the day to hit the reset button?

It starts with you
I often hear leaders say, “I don’t have time for this,” or “This stuff doesn’t matter,” or my favorite, “This stuff is too simple to really work!” The fact is, it is easy to understand conceptually, but changing our behaviors is not easy, and many don’t apply the initial effort it takes to do so.

To help you get started, dive into the first four items on the following list. Make sure that you set time aside on your calendar to get very clear on the first two. With this foundation in place, the other items will come more easily to you.

Resilient leaders do the following:

  1. They have clarity around a larger purpose and reflect on it often.
  2. They clearly know their values and don’t compromise on them.
  3. They use stress to grow and have habitual recovery routines they stick to.
  4. They take care of their whole being—physical, mental and emotional.
  5. They aren’t trying to prove their value or be indispensable. They’re focused on proving the value of others.
  6. They have a positive and nonjudgmental inner coach that is curious, compassionate and lives in possibility.
  7. They seek perspectives and ideas that don’t align with their own. They are inspired by others, not threatened.
  8. They don’t inflate or deflate their own worthiness. They are compassionately confident.

Becoming a resilient leader means spending more time exercising the rational, smart and creative side of the brain, and less time in a reactive, fight-or-flight mode. It means better decision making and more meaningful impact on others—and it results in greater fulfillment and well-being.

So, tell us: Are you a resilient leader? What is one thing that you can start doing differently tomorrow to be more resilient?

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