Resilience is a Secret Superpower for Leaders to Navigate Adversity

The new year 2020 barely got started and suddenly the world was thrust into pandemic panic. None of us had been there before.

Our personal lives were determined by the new norm of social distancing and economically, businesses scrambled to meet demands that strained their resources. It was traumatizing.

And now, nearly six months later, we are getting back on our feet. We have faced that our old, cherished routines are history. We are tiptoeing into new territory.

And how we got through the tumult – and are continuing to adjust to our new lives – taught us an important lesson: no one really knows what is going to happen next. But how we adapt, how we survive and thrive, is linked to our resiliency, that ability to bounce back from difficult times and move forward.

“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.”

― Steve Maraboli

Resiliency: It’s an Individual Trait. And It’s Key to Leadership.

Leaders are facing unprecedented times as their leadership skills are tested daily…moment by moment, even.

Now more than ever, resilience is key to impactful leadership. How well we can navigate adversity – especially in these times – has lasting impacts on not only ourselves, but on the people and organizations we lead.

How resilient we are is tied to our past, the experts say. Eilene Zimmerman writes in the New York Times that every study done in the past half century shows that one significant factor impacts our resilience in life: our personal relationships, especially with parents and primary caregivers, and the quality of that bond.

Zimmerman quoted Boston University School of Medicine professor of psychiatry Bessel van der Kolk, who has been researching post-traumatic stress disorder for nearly 50 years. “How loved you felt as a child is a great predictor of how you manage all kinds of difficult situations later in life,” stated van der Kolk, who suggests the first 20 years of life are especially critical.

Leading Effectively During Challenging Times

Essentially, resilience is a set of skills that is often learned, writes Zimmerman. Professor emeritus of psychiatry, PTSD and Resilience at Yale University School of Medicine Steven M. Southwick explains that stress is not all bad:

“If you can cope today with all that’s happening in the world around you, then when you are on the other side of it, you’ll be stronger.”

-Dr. Steven M. Southwick

Leading is a privilege, writes Dede Henley in Forbes. And with the world still adjusting to the new world that the pandemic birthed, leaders need to navigate through the myriad of dynamics presented in this new way of life.

BOLD Leaders, This is Our Time to Shine.

Our resiliency will determine how well we can lead others through these demanding times. As Henley notes, people are looking to see how leaders react and respond. They are waiting for their leaders to lead by example.

According to Zimmerman, highly resilient people share common traits:

  • a strong moral compass
  • accept what they cannot change & focus on what they can
  • positive, realistic outlooks
  • belief in a higher power
  • have a concern for others
  • find a meaning in life
  • are part of a support system

In his research, Dr. Southwick found that many resilient people don’t keep banging their head against the wall – they accept what they can’t change and work to do what is in their sphere of influence. His studies with former prisoners of war found that despite their immense suffering, they went on to find new meaning in their lives.

To Lead BOLDLY in Unprecedented Times…

Henley lists his five suggestions for effective collaboration:

  1. Trust and respect are vital – especially during these times. Be available and empathize with what others are experiencing.
  2. Meet with your team and share your meaning, your purpose together. Explain your “why” to increase awareness of what matters.
  3. Learn by mistakes. Instead of judgements, make corrections and find even better ways to approach problems.
  4. Leverage the power of gratitude. Let your team know how much they are appreciated.
  5. Sharpen physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual competencies. Observe the health of those around you. Intellectually, confirm the information and data you are given. Emotionally, don’t resist fear or unhappiness, both of which are natural and often, necessary to growth. Spiritually, discover what brings you peace & joy – and take time for that as often as you can.

The pages of our human history often note centuries of tragedies and difficult times. And yet, there are countless stories of hope and survival and new meanings.

The pages we are writing today will someday be in the history books. What legacy will your leadership leave?

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

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