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Personal leader resilience is key to navigate the current crisis and uncertain future

Currently, the resilience of businesses is being tested to the limit. But also, leaders’ robustness and resilience are key now to enable organisations and their teams to operate in these current unprecedented, frightening times. Over the coming months, if not years, leaders not only might have to question and transform the way their organisations function but need to be effective in supporting staff during an uncertain, turbulent time that is signified by fears of survival of loved ones and the organisations that provide our livelihood.

Mental health will be a top priority for business leaders even post-pandemic as social isolation measures typically have a long-lasting impact on mental health, such as post-traumatic stress and depression, as seen after isolation measures because of SARS. Often overlooked is the mental health of leaders themselves. In particular leaders’ resilience is key to be able to function effectively now and in the post-pandemic world. Based on our research with over 30 leaders across the (pre-pandemic) world, we established key components of leader resilience:

A resilient leader has a solution focus:

Self-awareness is key. When stressed we tend to use short-cuts in the way we think and act. For example, to create a sense of control over a stressful situation, which is indeed beyond our control, we tend micro-manage projects to get the illusion of control. Solution focus also means that we don’t go into manic defense mode and just act, act, act in order to avoid thinking about the frightening and deeply upsetting reality of a crisis and what the future holds for businesses and people. Instead, create the space to think and reflect (with the help of others), to establish what we can learn from the crisis – What should change in the ways we work and run businesses to be more effective and healthy? What could the new normal look like to, in fact, run more resilient businesses and economies?

A resilient leader is optimistic and believes in his/her ability (and that of their team) to drive positive change:

Containment of anxieties of team members by having trusting conversations where concerns are shared is a first step to enable ourselves and others to action. Show others that in crisis situation we can take charge and accept change whether positive or negative in our lives – with a clear commitment to creating a positive outcome of the crisis. This will be a strong role model for the team and create reassurance in team members that it is possible to prevail and grow stronger even in times of crisis.

A resilient leader provides shoulder for others to lean on so that they can lend a shoulder to him/her, too:

A resilient leader builds strong networks before and during crises. Leaders can show strength to others when clear direction is needed and share own vulnerabilities to demonstrate how emotionally challenging a crisis can be for everyone. So, if you have a bad day, or you see that you’re overwhelmed or not able to make a decision, then it’s okay to share that with your team. They can lend support or help find decisions. Sometimes your team will be stronger than you and sometimes you are the one who has to be the strong one to lift the team out of a sense of stuckness or despair.

A resilient leader is disciplined and committed to manage the current challenges in a healthy manner:

Again, self-awareness is key here for healthy self-management. How do relax and how do you recharge your batteries? Are you after a quick relief or do your recharging activities create endurance? Self-exploitation and ultimate burnout come from quick fixes and survival mechanisms to cope with a high-pressure situation with extreme energy-boosting and relaxation activities, such as caffeine and alcohol consumption, which are brittle coping resources as they boost performance in the moment but deplete overall resources further. Setting expectation boundaries as well as taking time out to reflect creates flexible coping resources. For example, by doing your one per day exercise outing, you build up overall physical health while diminishing dangerous cortisol levels created through the stress that we are all experiencing at the moment.

Personal resilience of leaders is key to navigate the current crisis and uncertain future as we are in this for the long haul. So, this is the time to work on your solution focus, optimism, network building and self-management. A more detailed overview of the components of leader resilience can be found here with key actions that can be taken to develop your resilience levels further:

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Dr Caroline Rook - Henley Business School Finland

Dr Caroline Rook

Caroline is a lecturer in leadership at Henley Business School. Her research relates to creating healthy and productive workplaces through exploring the links between leadership and well being in organisations. She investigates in particular how to manage executive stress, how to maintain authentic functioning at work and the role of coaching for creating resilience for positive leadership.

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