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Resilience: A Differentiating Factor in Today’s Leader

July 8, 2020 Susie Kelleher

Resiliency has always been a predictor of great leadership, but in today’s especially challenging and volatile environment, it is a critical requirement.

As leaders strive to rise to the challenge of profound social, economic, and health issues and truly unprecedented times, those who can access resiliency will differentiate themselves.

What does a resilient leader look like? 

Resilient leaders are emotionally composed, even while under attack. This emotional resilience allows them to 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 rather inviting and empowering. They do not quiet their opponents with their authority or feel threatened by other perspectives. They do not fall into a tailspin of reactive tendencies and self-preservation. Instead, they invite different perspectives to inform their decision making.

These elements of leadership are critical in the current environment, as organizations look to re-invent or sustain their business and help to heal a hurting community. Leaders must role-model these behaviors if they hope to create the inclusive and innovative culture we so desperately need today.

Leadership is about serving others

Resilient leaders are at their core Purposeful Leaders who maintain focus on the big picture and what is best for the organization and the team they serve.  They are servant leaders, focused on serving, which means they are present and engaged fully when working with others.

When we focus on ourselves, our ego, our personal needs, we make decisions from a place of fear and insecurity. This leads to lower emotional intelligence and resilience.

Even during a crisis, they are never too busy or too important to look you in the eye and give you their full attention. Take a moment to think about the leaders around you—in your organization, community, the world—who embody this approach. Compare their outcomes to leaders who do not.

It’s not about toughness

We sometimes confuse resilience with determination or toughness, but it is not the same.

There are many highly determined and tough leaders out there who 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 tough and determined, but they use their determination for the good of the whole—to empower and inspire others to reach their highest potential collectively and individually.

Most importantly, they are dedicated to increasing their self-awareness and growing their resilience throughout their career. They do not stop when they hit a certain level. They make a lifelong commitment and a dedicated effort to continually expand their resilience.

Recovery is key to emotional resiliency

Resilient leaders do not tell you how overworked and incredibly busy they are or wear working 24/7 as a badge of honor.

Why? Because this behavior does not 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 are focusing on a physical or mental muscle—and must be followed by recovery. Unfortunately, we often do not 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. In his book Positive Intelligence, Shirzad Chamine uses a technique called PQ reps.  These are quick intervals where you focus fully on something using one of your  senses for 10 seconds.  It is like mini-meditation and works powerfully to help us enhance the part of our brain that creates resilience.  It is a wonderful recovery technique from the daily mental and emotional stress we face.  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 is 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?

Transformation requires application.
While all the above may be easy to understand conceptually, changing our behavior is not easy. We must commit to taking the initial steps.

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 demonstrate 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, like those listed above.
  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. There has never been a more important time for all of us to effectively and compassionately do this.
  8. They are compassionately confident. They don’t inflate or deflate their own worthiness.

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. This is not an easy task in today’s environment but when we do it well it leads to better decision-making and more meaningful impact on others—and it results in greater fulfillment and well-being.

Leaders now face extraordinary challenges in an uncertain time, and as we take on more responsibility and higher expectations, our ability to center ourselves and lead from a place of resiliency will allow us to ascend to new heights.

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