A roadmap to building resilience in leaders | Gagen MacDonald

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A roadmap to building resilience in leaders

Oct 17, 2017

Thrill-seekers love the steep drops, loops, and high speed of a roller coaster. When it comes to sudden change in the workplace, however, even adventure-loving employees might not always enjoy the wide range of emotions they experience as they traverse what we at Gagen call the "change momentum curve."

As examined in the previous post, Leading Change Requires Boosting Employee Resilience, our clients are increasingly implementing strategies to help improve employee experience in an environment of ongoing disruptive change. Importantly, the success of these employer-supported efforts hinges on leaders and front-line managers who play an extremely valuable role in propelling their organizations through unpredictable times. They’re the ones who make changes feel inspiring and achievable.

So how can leaders themselves cope with the reality of change? They need their own personal approaches to help move from feelings of discomfort about the change journey to awakening a sense of discovery. Based on a growing body of research along with our own leadership development work, the following behaviors, when practiced over time, can strengthen resilience and improve the change journey for leaders—and ultimately, their employees.

Embrace an “opportunity mindset.” People fear change when it’s sudden, disruptive, and imposed on them. But they embrace it in other instances: attending college, getting married, having kids. Several studies conducted by Harvard Business School reveal that people who express excitement about a stressful situation can improve their performance and better handle the related pressure. Front-line managers who model this opportunistic behavior and encourage their employees to do the same are taking helpful first steps toward tackling challenging tasks.

Reframe your personal narrative. Timothy Wilson, PhD, a professor at the University of Virginia and author of Redirect: Changing the Stories We Live By, has researched the power of personal stories as individuals navigate complex life events. He found that reframing one’s narrative away from trivial and pessimistic circumstances to focus instead on individual perseverance, new skills, and other positive attributes required to overcome obstacles leads to better outcomes.

Seek reinforcement from peers. People can feel isolated when experiencing change. The right workplace acquaintances are critical and can lend a listening ear while offering encouragement along the change journey. Resilient leaders surround themselves with those in their network who stick with a goal long after others give up. Together they maintain stamina, as well as a committed attitude, throughout the transformation.

Be altruistic. A recent study about psychological resilience in U.S. military veterans reveals that individuals who offer support to others are quicker to recover from trauma events than those who just receive support from peers. Helping others gives us a sense of purpose in our lives, and researchers believe this boosts inner strength to manage our own challenges when they arise.

Restore your positive energy. The stress of workplace change can be reduced, but not eliminated. Resilient leaders carve out regular moments to take a break from it all. One simple option: social psychologists and neuroscientists attest to the benefits of mindfulness practices, such as meditation, to boost cognitive flexibility and problem-solving capabilities and decrease stress.

Let go & lead. Leaders can feel singled out during moments of transformation. Who they work with can be modified. Their job responsibilities might be adjusted. Resilient leaders accept that change is a part of life—and a part of business. They don’t ignore uncomfortable feelings; they stay aware of them and prevent negative emotions from taking over.

Change efforts can be messy, and perfection is rarely achieved. Yet the day-to-day implementation of critical business initiatives—including the struggles, the failures, and the new attempts in between—present today’s leaders with the chance to improve their own resilience-boosting practices while also inspiring others to power through.

To discover more perspectives on leading through change, visit Let Go & Lead, our online conversation with senior executives about leadership today.

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