Are you growing resilience to enable you to lead effectively?

That organisations are facing challenging and complex situations is nothing new. Leaders have to make more difficult decisions with fewer resources. With having fewer supports, many find it challenging to stay focused, motivated to address the challenge and willing to take the necessary risks to do so. It is one of the paradoxes of our times: a need for leadership to encourage and guide organisations, groups and society at large through the rapidly changing times at a time when there are fewer and fewer resources in place to support and develop leaders. Growing resilience is an essential conscious decision leaders need to make.

Leadership development has largely fallen on the individual. A lot of leadership development is outwardly focused, ensuring that team members understand and internalise the vision, are motivated and engaged. The fact that leaders operate in a rapidly changing environment and that the effort expended to keep up to these constantly shifting situations takes its toll on leaders is often overlooked.

The internal toll of leaders

The internal toll of leadership in such difficult and strenuous times can lead to burn out. Leaders exhaust themselves and deplete their resources. They suffer from lack of support and time to rest. Organisations lose out for not having the change or vision fully realized. Society becomes poorer because many of its institutions are not well adapted to circumstances. The potential value and benefit to all evaporates. Without growing resilience the leader will not survive.

The issue remains, that to be effective as a leader in such times, personal investment is needed to support growing resilience. These are a basket of skills that enable leaders to effectively and healthily manage stress, maintain balance between their work and private lives, regulate their emotions, and have the ability to keep an appropriate self-dialogue. In essence these skills are emotional intelligence as they relate to the self, stress management, resilience, and maintenance of personal well-being.

How leaders handle setbacks and challenges

I have been conducting a study on leadership for the past year. Part of the interview addressed how leaders personally handled setbacks and challenges.

Some sections of a few of the interviews I conducted are included in this article. Sandra Tisiot, founder and CEO of and creator of MylifeLocker, draws from her experience as a dancer in which she had to learn and apply personal discipline. Today when she is faced with a challenge, she said she doesn’t stand down. For Sandra, ‘there is no no’. Sometimes she walks away from the situation to get another perspective or angle. She’ll have a soft conversation with herself to explore the matter in detail. ‘Once you become an entrepreneur, your personal voice needs to be strong. There are always prospects around the corner, you just need to keep that in mind,’ she says

Sandra was able to draw on skills learned in another context to to help with growing resilience. Often we learn something and don’t apply it in another setting. These questions will help you identify knowledge and skills that you now possess and help you think how you can apply them in different contexts:

  • Have you ever played a musical instrument? What did you learn there that you could apply to other areas of your life?
  • Have you ever played a sport? What knowledge and practices could you transfer to your work? What aspects of your work could you transfer when playing a sport?

Challenge with enthusiam

A second person I interviewed is named Gary Thomas, of Reddick and Macdonald Ltd. Insurance. When Gary encounters a setback or obstacle, he challenges himself with enthusiasm – he becomes a kid that is curious and wants to know more. Gary said that ‘enthusiasm is key to willingness’.

To help you develop your enthusiasm and motivation, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is needed to accomplish the goal or vision?
  • What are you willing to do to realise your goal?
  • Why are you unwilling to do other things?
  • How comfortable are you doing the things you said you won’t do? Why is that? Do these activities stretch your current skill level, challenge your perception of how things work, or threaten how you perceive yourself, your work and the world?
  • From where do you get your enthusiasm? What tasks, skills, activities really engage you?
  • What tasks and activities really demotivate you? Why is that?

Handling intense negative emotions

Jen Hunter, Chief Engagement Officer at GreatWork, is another interviewee who shared her insights on how to deal with a tense situation. Jen noted ‘I always hold two assumptions: they are afraid or they don’t know they are causing harm’. When asked how she handles intense negative emotions, Jen explained ‘I’ve been known to jump up and down, to do something physically dramatic to get into a different state. Sometimes I go for a run, use the rowing machine, talk to a friend. I don’t get out of myself by myself.’

By changing her physical condition and perspective, Jen is gaining perspective. She is also aware that stress impacts her physically and that a health release of frustration is often beneficial. Jen is also entering a situation in which her assumptions about the other person are positive and as such doesn’t aggravate the situation.

To help develop these aspects of your self-leadership abilities, consider the following questions:

  • When you engage in a situation that is tense or difficult, what are the first impressions of the other people? Are they negative, neutral or positive? If they are negative, what can you do to transform them into neutral assumptions or presumptions about their motives?
  • Being in a stressful situation can make you mentally stuck, unable to see or think of alternative solutions. What can you do to rearrange your workspace or the team’s workspace to keep things fresh? What can you physically do to help you change perspective?
  • When stress builds, what kinds of physical activities can you do to help relieve the stress?

Growing resilience and leading others

As leaders venture into uncharted waters, it behooves them to monitor the toll it takes on them and to correct for these imbalances. Self-development and self-leadership is the first frontier in an environment in which borders and boundaries are rapidly changing and shifting. Leaders who are burned out and unable to further contribute do themselves a deep harm and their followers a profound disservice. All leaders must remember: by leading themselves first and growing resilience they are better able to lead others.

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Renée helps business get unstuck. Through business relationship mapping, conflict resolution and leadership development, Renée helps entrepreneurs and businesses understand their ecosystems, identify underutilised resources and opportunities to engage.

Renée works at both ends of the spectrum: from the fun stuff of building excellent teams to dealing with low morale. She helps managers take workplace bullies by the horns, address long standing conflicts, all of the frustrating stuff to harnessing the energy in a conflict to collaborate, innovate, and build better businesses.

Renée is a speaker, trainer, coach and consultant.