How to be resilient when the s**t hits the fan

Apr 10, 2017Leadership

Why is resilient leadership important?


Resiliency is the ability to bounce back after challenges and keep going when things are tough.

As a leader, you must be prepared to experience difficulties and setbacks many times over the course of your career.

Consider Christopher Reeve, the American actor who played Superman. At 42 he fell off his horse and was paralysed.

Despite overwhelming odds, he made the most of his remaining nine years by directing and starring in films; he wrote books, lobbied for stem cell research and was an inspiration for those with spinal cord injuries and paralysis.

Resilient leadership is essential to success.

To quote Lisa Aldisert, resilient leaders are strong leaders. They are flexible and can persist when the world seems to be against them.

The great news is that anybody can become a resilient leader, it just takes some practice.


12 ways to develop your resilient leadership muscle

#1: Keep things in perspective – focus on what really matters


Sometimes we all lose perspective on things and forget what really matters. When things get tough, it’s easy to dwell on problems, but one of the signs of a great leader is the ability to keep your eye on the prize.

As Shawn Kent Hayashi from The Complete Leader recommends, keeping written goals and reading them throughout the day can help keep your mind on where you want to go, not on all the things that aren’t going right.

Why not keep a list of your heroes – people who have tried and failed before eventually succeeding?

For me, I think about how Morgan Freeman didn’t land his first major movie role until he was 52 and how JK Rowling was living on welfare until she shot to fame with her Harry Potter books.

You’re never too old or too young to try something new. Resilient leadership is all about keeping your head above the choppy sea, keeping your eyes on the shore and paddling calmly towards it.


#2: Keep a positive attitude


A positive attitude can work wonders for your resiliency as a leader, and it will improve the way others perceive you.

By being positive, others will admire your resilience, will have greater trust in your ability to lead and will be more likely to help and support you.

Whining and giving out, on the other hand, will have the opposite effect. ‘Why me?’ doesn’t inspire confidence in others.

Instead of complaining and feeling sorry for yourself, hold strong to your ideals and believe in your vision.

Every person and every organisation will suffer, it’s how they deal with the tough times that will determine how they flourish when the tide turns in their favour again.


resilient leadership

#3: Remember that failure is all a part of learning


Try not to become bitter or angry when faced with failure.

Remember instead that it’s all a part of learning and that failure can keep you humble and focused.

So, don’t give up your power by giving in. Instead, see failure as an opportunity to develop and grow and focus on action steps you can take to pull yourself out of the hole you’ve found yourself in.

In The Complete Leader chapter on resiliency, Ron Price and Randy Lisk mention how Thomas Edison persevered in the face of failure.

When asked if he was discouraged by all his failed attempts at testing the electric light, he was optimistic and replied that his failures must mean that he is getting close to an answer.

As Franklin D. Roosevelt once said: ‘a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor’.

Effective, resilient leadership requires a steady head and an ability to pass through the storms.


#4: Don’t let one event negatively impact your entire life


In this great podcast, Mindy Bortness advises leaders against over focusing on any one event, something which is particularly important to remember in times of stress.

Resilient people believe they have some control over a problematic situation and have the ability to change it. They see themselves as survivors.

Victims, on the other hand, believe that a bad event is not their fault and outside their control.

Try to avoid bringing the office home and complaining constantly to your spouse about whatever disaster is going on at work.

Resilient people watch their thoughts. They think thoughts such as ‘this too shall pass’ and ‘I can get through this’. They also believe setbacks are temporary, transient and will not affect other areas of their lives.

We’ve all done it, but try to avoid the mistake of letting one event negatively affect everything else.


#5: Stay flexible


One of the key tenets of resilient leadership is the ability to deal with constant change.

When things aren’t going well, there is often a real temptation to stick to what you know works well.

It’s familiar, it’s comfortable and now of all times you need that stability and that certainty.

The Complete Leader mentions something that really rings a bell with me: “threat rigidity”!

Coined by Barry Staw of UC Berkeley, it means that people under pressure are more likely to be inflexible, thus narrowing their search for alternative solutions to their problem.

Is this something you find yourself doing?

Develop your resilient leadership muscle by pushing yourself to remain open to trying new things. You may find creative solutions that you might never have thought of otherwise.


#6: Lean on others. Rely on your support network


Resilient leadership doesn’t mean doing it all alone. An important aspect of it is knowing when to lean on others and ask for help.

As Mindy Bortness points out, in hard times it helps to surround yourself with people who know and love you for all your strengths and weaknesses.

Sit down and talk it out over a cup of tea, hug it out, ask your partner to look after the dinner or spend time in the outdoors together.

Don’t ever let yourself think that leaders have to be strong, solitary figures. Sometimes the strongest thing you can do is to ask for help.

So, lean on your loved ones and let them help you through the bad days.


#7: Visualise yourself on a timeline


We all know that it’s easy to get caught up in today’s issue and wonder how on earth you will get through it. Today’s challenges can take up unnecessary space in your mind as you deliberate over them and fret constantly.

But what about that thing you were worrying about six months ago? How could you have forgotten about that?

The point is that we get through things. We always do.

To keep yourself in the right frame of mind, recognise that there will always be something to worry about. The skill lies in being able to step back when you need to.

Ask yourself if whatever you’re worrying about will still be bothering you six hours, six months or six years from now.

Really consider if the time and energy you’re putting into being anxious about today’s problem is worth it.


resilient leadership

#8: Make journalling a priority


Journalling is a great habit to build for anybody who wants to improve their self-awareness, understanding and emotional intelligence.

But it’s also great for finding solutions and calming down when stressed.

Why not tie this tip in with the one above? Look back on your journal and see what you were dealing with six months ago.

Reflect on how you got through it, and have trust in your ability to get through this problem too.


#9: Work on your self-confidence


Resilient leadership requires a high level of self-esteem and confidence. Have faith in your ability to get through the hard times and to succeed in the future.

Communication Works recommends focusing on your wins more than your losses, celebrating your victories and paying attention to when you’re being self-critical so that you can turn things around.

Most importantly, be kind to yourself as you develop your self-confidence. You don’t have to be perfect to achieve great things in this world.


#10: Lose yourself in a hobby


Find a hobby that absorbs you and takes your mind off things. Consider trying painting, cooking, running or anything that gets you in the flow.

By regularly practising these things, you will become more adept at staying in the moment which will help you improve your resilience.


Final thoughts…


Really think about the importance of resilience.

How do you normally react when things go wrong? Do you struggle to get through difficult times and rise higher?

The truth is that resilient leadership is critical for long term success, but resiliency is a muscle that must be worked on. To stay strong, you must practice.

So, work your way through the ten tips above and commit to improving your resiliency. Your future self will thank you for it.

To learn more, why not check out The Complete Leader YouTube playlist?

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