Modern leadership is far from easy. In a volatile, uncertain, and ever-changing world, it can seem like you’re being hit from all sides with obstacles and challenges. But no matter how often they fall, some leaders just keep bouncing back – even thriving and getting ahead.
So, how do they do it? The answer is emotional resilience.
A Definition of Resilience
Emotional resilience is a learnable skill, one which helps us recover faster from setbacks. It is a critical part of strong personal leadership that involves learning from stress or mistakes. When adversity strikes – which it always does – a resilient person views it as temporary and tries to find a path forward.
In a nutshell, resilient leaders can turn negative experiences into opportunities for growth. And the only prerequisite for resilience is experiencing negative events – something we all have our fair share of!
What Does It Look Like?
Research shows that resilient leaders tend to share a few things:
– They pay attention to indicators of change, monitoring the dynamic environment and acknowledging changing, rather than fearing it;
– They aren’t afraid to adapt and respond proactively – helping their organizations survive and thrive;
– While doing so, they find a way to remain positive, managing everyday operations and the stress that comes with them;
– They tune into the real reason for negative emotions – like loss aversion and biases; and
– Rather than getting bogged down or avoiding stress, they focus on possible ways forward.
How To Build Resilience as a Leader
It is possible to develop our emotional resilience, and over the years I have been fortunate enough work with many leaders who have done so. I’ve also observed the strong positive impact it’s had on their ability to support others, remain focused on the future, and navigate their firms through trying times.
Here are three things I’ve observed among leaders who actively cultivate resilience:
1. Embracing Change
We live in times where unpredictability is the only predictable factor. Cautionary tales of failure to adapt – like Nokia and Blockbuster – are often seen as lessons for organizations as a whole, but they also apply to individuals. Resilient leaders make an effort to look around and ahead, developing their situational awareness.
I’ve noticed that they are proactive about environmental warning signs, building flexibility into their strategies and their unique leadership styles.
2. Learning from Failure
Out of tough times, comes mental toughness – failure is never the end of the road for leaders with resilience. When an idea fails to gain traction, or when a previously strong strategy starts to show cracks, resilient leaders look into what went wrong. With this information in hand, they make active attempts to look forward and think about what’s coming – even if that’s not clear yet.
For what it’s worth, this growth mindset is apparent in their use of language, too: the resilient individuals I’ve known tend to describe “challenges” and “lessons” rather than “losses” or more permanent, final terms.
3. Staying Positive
I’ve never met a resilient leader who was also a pessimist. But don’t just take my word for it – research shows that a positive outlook helps us overcome those negative feelings of ‘failure’ in the first place. If our sales take a hit or our customer strategy falters, our loss aversion instinct kicks in, the first gut reaction is usually to cut our losses and give up.
The resilient leaders I’ve known aren’t afraid to take risks when the situation calls for it. Instead of being overwhelmed with despair or fear, they use optimism or relaxation to manage their stress – then think about changing their approach.
The Bigger Picture
Resilient leaders are the foundation for resilient organizations. When individuals in charge act as role models for those around them, we see more cohesion among teams and greater commitment to a company’s shared vision. We see fewer silos, greater well-being, and all the positive engagement and performance benefits of a healthy workplace culture.
Lastly, it helps to lead with integrity, too. Being transparent about setbacks and challenges helps to establish the credibility of those at the helm – it builds trust throughout the organization, and makes others more likely to adopt a resilient approach. With a culture of resilience, organizations can be more adaptable as a whole, responding and innovating to maintain a competitive edge in a shifting business context.
Govert is Time To Grow Global’s Managing Partner, specializing in Strategy Facilitation, Leadership development and Organisational performance. Reach him on our Time To Grow Global LinkedIn.