You’ve recently heard the news about C-suite executives, high-ranking government officials and others who lose their, well…composure… in high stakes situations. It’s difficult to discern cause and effect in those situations, and yet there is compelling evidence that lack of sleep, persistently high levels of stressful and complex decisions and situations, and poor habits of self-care will all contribute to low levels of resilience for any human being.
Resilience is that ability to bounce back and maintain elasticity, and it’s related to all facets of our lives – body, mind, heart, spirit, however you want to articulate your complex self. It doesn’t matter if you are an entrepreneur, celebrity, physician, knowledge worker, executive, parent, leader, follower, or any human being – resilience is a capability that we all need.
Resilience in our bodies means that – through repeated practice – we’ve trained our bodies to recover from injury. Two of the best practices for physical resilience are a thoughtful yoga program and well-designed physical training that suits your goals and capabilities.
Resilience in our minds helps us adjust quickly to the shifting sands of reality – those unexpected (yet inevitable) events that can derail a sound mind if we are rigid and unprepared. Preparation and planning are generally part of what you do at work and in life, and those practices serve a purpose in helping you move forward toward a goal or outcome that you want. If you have planned well for a vacation, for example, a change in weather or an equipment malfunction is easier to manage.
Notice what you are attached to in terms of beliefs and habits, and what you are avoiding. That self-observation will provide you with insights to adapt your way of thinking about a situation that may ease your stress, give you better options and reduce the likelihood of coming unglued in an unattractive, unproductive way.
Resilience in our hearts and spirits protects us against emotional injury and makes recovery faster and easier. Having a strong sense of self-worth, powerful faith/attitude and compassion toward others are all indicators of emotional resilience.
Learning by doing – practicing – through meditation or taking time to reconnect your mind, soul and body throughout the day, can build resilience for the times when you experience a crisis, or when you are under fire for a length of time and you have to show up cool under pressure. Without practice, it will be tough in the moment to wrangle your emotions and physical responses to respond as your best self.
If you want to begin a resilience practice, keep your eye on the word “practice.” As in, “it’s not going to be perfect” kind of practice, the kind of practice that is never truly “done.” As with anything in life, practice leads us to levels of mastery, not willing ourselves. You won’t lose 5 pounds by just thinking about it. You’ll need to reduce your caloric intake and exercise more. That’s the practice.
Like learning anything new, patience is a virtue. Doing even an imperfect practice is much better than no practice. This is on-the-job training at its best, and most of your daily experiences are opportunities to practice resilience – managing a difficult co-worker, establishing a new vendor relationship, calling a plumber to your house on a Saturday night.
One of my mentors, Doug Silsbee, was a pioneer in presence-based leadership. His teachings began simply with a focus on prioritizing time and space each day and creating a goal for your practice. Doug challenged us to ground at least 10 times a day. That means breathing, feeling your feet on the floor and reshaping your posture to settle yourself for a few minutes. Your calendar can be a tool to remind you to practice.
Try to schedule a couple of 10-15 minute walks each day just to clear your mind and reconnect with your body. Notice if you are feeling emotionally triggered and think about why that might be. Jot notes down in a journal and keep track of when you need to practice more in order to avoid being triggered.
Practice often makes for more practice, and the goal is not to be perfect, but to practice consistently in a way that moves you towards more clear and focused thinking, a calmer emotional state and more awareness of how others are responding to you. That in and of itself will build resilience.
Relationships are complicated, right? So let’s break this down a bit. Working relationships are not so much about whether we go out to dinner together after the workday, but more about mutual commitment. If you and I are committed to each other, we are more likely to support each other, hold each other accountable and pull in the same direction to accomplish our goals. Trusted relationships can become a powerful force for good in an organization, as more people moving together in the same direction will get there fast. People pulling and pushing against one another will never get there at all. I need you, and you need me, to be successful.
The single most important relationship-building tool is frequent and honest two-way conversation. Great leaders insist on a regular and honest exchange of information and teach their team members also to insist on it. Without this exchange, the conversations that aren’t had, those missed conversations, become an invisible dark force that inhibits relationships.
Imagine all of the conversations that you would need to have with a colleague on a cross-functional project. When the two of you come together, each with expertise in your respective functional area, you have to transcend your expertise and complete something larger than both of you. Combining your skills, personalities, behaviors, approaches and knowledge for the greater good of a successful project can be a feat that would challenge the Yoda in all of us. A large dose of conversation is the secret ingredient to achieve something that is magical and effective.
In order to develop a great working relationship, you have to be committed to staying in conversation with someone even when the going gets tough - even when you show up in your functional cape and forget your team wardrobe. Committing to each other’s success in order for the relationship to work means someone might have to give more at times than the other. Sometimes you have to adapt behavior to show up in a way that invites participation from the other. Sometimes it means being willing to apologize when you don’t uphold your commitments.
Use the force of two-way conversations and mutual commitment. Learn how to build strong working relationships where success belongs to everyone involved.
Obstacles, distractions and things that get in our way are part of the norm of life, both at home and in the workplace. Recently, my sometimes well-behaved Weimaraner (large, needy and extremely affectionate dog) decided to shred her bed in the middle of the night, leaving the mess for me to discover the next morning when I had no additional time to spare before a demanding client meeting. This is life, right?
How you coach yourself through the obstacles of life can mean the difference between having a meltdown, spinning your wheels, or successfully navigating the obstacle and moving forward. Building self-awareness and being open to not having all of the answers are two tools for working through obstacles, especially at work.
Recently I worked with a client who is facing some very real obstacles to completing a project because of functional silos that exist in their workplace. The walls seem to be pretty tall and thick in some places, and the environment is territorial. You may have experienced this in your own organization. You and your department might even be “those people.”
Working through, around or with obstacles is a lot of what we are called to do in our work as leaders. It could be called problem solving or teamwork or team building or living in chaos, and in today’s VUCA world (the acronym for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous), it is the norm.
Here are a few tips to consider when coaching yourself through these challenges:
Leadership lessons and inspiration can be gained from everyday experiences, whether we are participating or observing. While not automatic, we can choose to look through the lens of inspiration, and that lens can move us to change and grow, or sometimes just keep going. Most recently, I was inspired by the run for the Stanley Cup by Nashville’s local NHL team, the Predators. Here are a few things that I took from the experience:
Certainly bringing the Cup home would have been an amazing end to this story, and yet we celebrate the Predators' demonstration of commitment, focus and integrity, as well as the great sense of fun that they brought to each game. Their best inspired the rest of community to be committed and bring our best. It wasn’t perfect, indeed, yet spectacularly successful none-the-less. It was a nearly ideal leadership experience, and was certainly inspiring enough to consider what worked well that could be applied in other work environments. How can you bring these lessons to your team?
Most of us start our journey of business ownership with a passion and a heart for the pursuit of our own thing, not beholden to anyone else to make decisions for us or supervise our decisions. We love the freedom and the sense of adventure, and the ability to pursue something that enriches our lives and pays for the food on our tables. We believe in finding work that is consistent with who we are, and we also believe that others will want to follow us, buy from us, and also experience all of the value that we can bring to their world.
If you want to have a successful business, though, whether you work for yourself or someone else, you need to know very specifically who you are serving and what makes you uniquely qualified to deliver the value that you say you are offering. You have to understand what risks you are taking and why you are taking them on this specific market segment.
You also need to have the discipline to do the things that you should do even when you don’t want to do them. I think the term today is “adulting” when you make those types of decisions. And in a new business, knowing who you serve, how you will serve them and making the tough decisions each day to spend your time focused there is a very adult decision.
So, while passion and heart goes a long way, building structure and strategy around your passion will help you relate and deliver better to your ideal customer, and support you in taking risks that are more likely to have a reward for you. If you want to improve your success:
Your heart is only one of your guides on this journey. Creating strategy and structure in addition to identifying your target market, meeting them and fine-tuning while you are learning about them will require courage, discipline and a positive mindset. Your heart will benefit from having that type of support.
One of the biggest challenges we have today isn’t a dearth of ideas, apps and experts; it’s the ability for a business owner or leader to select a very few things to implement for the biggest impact, and then execute well on those few things. Entrepreneurs do not have unlimited time, money or other resources to spend scattered across too many ideas, so the real challenge is to make time to decide what top three things will move your business forward and master those. Knowledge isn’t power unless you can activate it to achieve your priorities.
If you are feeling scattered and smothered and potentially covered (thank you, Waffle House, for this hash brown metaphor), it’s time to develop a system to create calm, remove distractions and create focus. Here are a few tips to consider:
Making deliberate choices about how you will spend your valuable time and money, and not being distracted by the need to do more will enable you to master the effective few things that will grow your business, and also set you up to be more available to real opportunity that crosses your path.
What you choose to do with your time directly impacts what you accomplish by the end of the day. I know. That sounds so obvious. And yet I hear this so often: “Wow, it’s been SOOOO busy today, but I have no idea what I did.” In our world of constant stimulation and distraction, disruptions and complexity, it’s easy to be off-the-chain busy and not accomplish anything that pertains to our priorities.
The constant barrage of emails popping into the inbox, text messages dinging, voice mails blinking, cell phones buzzing and other electronic notifications can feel like an assault on the senses and most definitely on the attention span. While the tools that deliver these messages are necessary to our modern way of doing business, we don’t have to be slaves to them. We can manage them, rather than being managed by them.
Building a few habits of how you approach your day can help reduce the busy-ness and increase your focus on your few and most important priorities. Here are several tips to consider:
We all face distractions and those days when we aren’t as productive or focused as we had planned. We also all have conscious choices about how we spend our time, which is a responsibility that needs to be managed. Leaders who are successful model the discipline and the habits of evaluating what’s working or not, and shift their habits to adapt to what works best.
A person’s response to stress and change is often a reflection of that person’s ability to adapt and flex – their resilience. Like a little green claymation character, resilient people can change gears gracefully, quickly envision Plan B (and C and D), and keep focused on the end goal despite the detours, road blocks and hazards on the way there.
Leaders who are resilient set a tone for their teams that is confident and reassuring, a tone that maintains progress and productivity even while the sands are shifting under their feet. Conversely, leaders who break rather than bend will find themselves with employees who are confused, frustrated, perhaps even fearful - but not productive.
However you show up as a leader, whether it’s calm or frenetic, assured or afraid, focused or overwhelmed, your team will become a reflection of you. Stress can be contagious, as can resilience and humor and all other behaviors that we bring to our work. Showing up resilient gives your followers the confidence to resist panic, the inspiration to stay on task, and the motivation to remain committed to the goal.
Resilience is a practice and a shift in mindset. We often attribute drama in the workplace to those who are not resilient. That ability to weather a storm, bounce back from a failure, and be calm in the midst of a storm are characteristics that define unflappable, resilient leaders. They manage stress, chaos and discomfort as just part of the job, and they take the time to practice those things that build resilience, such as disciplines around taking care of themselves, managing their priorities and establishing boundaries around their work and their relationships.
Resilience is finding a center of gravity and strength from which to operate in a consistently changing complex and complicated work environment. Knowing you can bend and being willing to be uncomfortable are highly stabilizing characteristics of strong leaders.
I work within a number of frameworks with my clients to help them see themselves as the leaders they need and want to be. I think about these frameworks as scaffolding that supports learning in a way that has meaning and context for you, the individual leader. Once the scaffolding is in place, then you can begin to fill out the form and function of the what, why and how of your learning and development.
One of my “go-to” frameworks is one that I call “The Four R’s.” All of executive and leadership development cannot be boiled down to these four concepts, but what I’ve observed, experienced and studied is that great leaders will exhibit a strong showing of each of these:
Resilience: Effective leaders are those who can bend in strong winds without breaking and manage the continual stress of ongoing change and constant access to information. Often the coaching process investigates ways to develop and strengthen resilience and improve responses to stress and change. Team members are more apt to trust a resilient leader and follow where they need to be led.
Relationships: Building workplace relationships is critical to productivity and success, and the single most important relationship-building tool is frequent and honest two-way conversation. Leader success blooms from team member success, the foundation of which is a regular, healthy exchange of information. Great leaders insist on honest conversation and teach their team members also to insist on it – otherwise teams become confused, mislead and demoralized. Think of a rowing team that works well together and imagine what kind of chaos happens when they don’t. Yikes.
Real: The fear of humiliation often keeps people from being themselves, or being vulnerable in the workplace. It’s tough to admit you don’t have all the answers, particularly if you are the leader. When leaders achieve the ability to be more vulnerable, or “real,” they see team members step toward them and experience a greater degree of connection and cooperation with their employees.
Rhythm: How work gets done is critically important for a successful organization. Creating a proper work rhythm for a team allows members to speed up and slow down together, gracefully give entry to new members and create an environment of reciprocal trust. Leaders who create that rhythm minimize disruptions and provide a productive and joyful work experience for their team members. The flow of work and interaction becomes more predictable and consistent. Go back to that rowing analogy. If there isn’t a rhythm, someone is going to feel pain.
Consider what framework helps you orient yourself to your personal and professional development. How are you building competence and mastery in the Four R’s?