How resilient leaders use positive emotions during organisational turbulence
The pace of change seems faster than ever before. Many organisations have multiple change initiatives on the go at the same time, while still trying to maintain “business as usual”.
Senior and middle-level leaders are expected to enthusiastically drive these initiatives, while coping well themselves. If however they are over-stressed and change-weary, then the success of the change initiatives is at risk.
The way leaders cope and deal with their own emotions directly impacts on the emotions of their team members. Their optimism or pessimism is contagious and spreads like a ’flu virus from one team member to another.
When leaders are at their best, they keep stress positive, bounce back from adversity and recover well. Their resilience and positive emotions influence the people around them, who in turn find it easier to be more positive.
Positive emotions are the magic ingredient to cope during adversity
Resilience is good, right? But is too much bad?
I was asked this when running a resilience training workshop for 30 Local Councillors. They were newly-elected and from three different political parties.
We were looking at how personal strengths influence resilience. I was blown away that 40% of them had Bravery in their top five strengths profile. Bravery is defined as speaking up for what is right and acting on one’s convictions, even if it’s unpopular. Usually it’s only about 15%.
Bravery is a wonderful strength. We need bravery to resist social or peer pressure to conform, to speak up and to keep on doing “the right thing”. You need a lot of that to be a whistle-blower and be resilient.
The Local Councillors told me they need bravery for … how did they put it? Oh yes, “robust” and “full and frank exchange of views” with each other.
Strengths can become weaknesses however, if they are used inappropriately. When bravery is used at an inappropriate time or used too much, it becomes overconfidence and foolishness. People stop listening. They ignore you. You end up being disrespected and labelled a troublemaker.
That’s when one of the delegates asked: “Is too much resilience bad? She explained that a senior leader boasted: “I don’t have stress. I give stress. I am stress carrier.”
There is always pain in organisations. Some of it comes from organisational issues, such as leaders pushing boundaries and driving their teams hard or overwork or job insecurity.
Other sources of pain come from outside of the organisation and when people bring their emotions to work. This pain can come from personal issues (e.g. relationships; finances; health) or external social and physical issues (e.g. social disruption; violence; natural disasters).
Whether it has origins inside or outside the organisation, in any group of people at work, you can expect that there is at least one person in pain. Continue reading
Highly successful people are able to perform under pressure when it matters the most. Even when there are high stakes outcomes, they are able to stay focused and achieve their objectives.
In contrast, for most of us asking for a salary increase, dealing with a workplace bully or coordinating multiple projects are very difficult situations. The higher the stakes, the greater the pressure and that’s when our brains turn into porridge.
Fortunately we can learn from highly successful people who cope well with pressure. Build your resilience to improve performance under pressure by doing the following: Continue reading
Work is stressful, but home is less stressful, right? That’s what many of us say, but not necessarily what actually happens.
According to a new study from Penn State University, both men and women have significantly less stress at work rather than at home, and this difference is even more pronounced for women than men. In addition, they found that the women in their study were happier at work than at home, whilst in contrast, men felt happier at home than at work.
Whaaaaat? How can that be? Continue reading
No one welcomes the feeling of being stressed. We prize performance, competition and perfection and if we don’t feel competent it causes stress.
So is stress bad? The answer is yes and no. Without some level of stress, life is positively boring, but on the other hand too much stress is debilitating. Thus there should be an optimum level of stress for motivation and engagement for every one.
It turns out that this is true, but what is experienced by one person as motivating and exciting, may be experienced by someone else as overload resulting in anxiety and reduced efficiency. Continue reading
To survive in our rapidly changing economic environment, many organisations are making large-scale changes which ratchets up pressure on everyone. More output is required from people using fewer resources. Many people are working longer hours and complain that work is more stressful than ever before.
If this applies to you, you need to be resilient. Resilience is the ability to stay task focused and productive during difficult times, to recover well from sustained pressure and adversity. It also enables learning for the experience to become personally better rather than bitter; stronger rather than weaker.
While this might sound like magic, it is in fact ordinary magic that everyone possesses. The good news is that it’s made up of a set of skills and behaviours that can be learnt and improved.
In our research on personal resilience (more here), we found seven elements that make up resilience, as shown in the model. From these elements, there are five practical strategies that can immediately assist to build your internal coping resources to become more resilient. Continue reading
To remain viable in the present rapidly changing business world, organisations are introducing multiple, deep-impact change initiatives. It’s well known however, that large-scale change has a very disappointing track record of being successfully implemented on time and within budget.
“People naturally resist change” is often given as the reason. This is incorrect. People will accept and even welcome some types of change. They will however logically resist change which threatens their comfort; confidence; control and competence.
When change is experienced as disruptive or even unwanted, people feel dislocated, become obsessed with present problems and lose their perspective. These negative emotions feed on each other and entire teams can quickly become despondent and directionless.
Individuals and teams are particularly vulnerable if they feel their work activities no longer have meaning. If that happens, the leaders’ role becomes substantially more difficult. Not only do the leaders suffer as much as their followers, but they are also responsible for implementing change with demoralised and listless team members. Continue reading
The Building Resilience Handbook is normally available as an e-book from Amazon Kindle at US$11.39. To thank you for reading my newsletters about resilience, I am making it freely available to you for a limited period. It will be only available free from 25 May to 29 May, 2016.
Have a look at some of the reviews of the book:
- “Inspiring and applicable throughout one’s lifetime” Fred Irumba, science teacher, Jakindaba Senior Secondary School.
- “Easy to implement at work and home. The results are remarkable!” Brent Beilinsohn, Manager, Old Mutual Investment Group South Africa.
- “Mind blowing! Implementing these practical exercises has made me a better person” Fanuel Kakuiya, Senior Superintendent, South African Police Services.
Imagine having abundant inner strength and resourcefulness to withstand and recover quickly from whatever difficulties life may throw at you. With The Building Resilience Handbook you can.
Packed with practical exercises and inspirational stories, this groundbreaking, research-based book of 314 pages will guide you step-by-step to develop inner strength and realistic optimism. It’s the formula to not only survive but thrive in the face of life’s challenges. Continue reading
Myth 1. Stress is bad for you
Too much stress is certainly bad for you. Stress is what happens when the demands on you exceed your resources to deal with them. You feel overwhelmed, overly anxious, uncertain and upset. Being overstressed like this reduces your ability to perform at your peak and be the loving person you wish to be at home.
Too much stress isn’t only emotionally debilitating, it’s also bad for your health. Prolonged overstress can weaken your immune system and cause high blood pressure, fatigue, depression and heart disease.
But here’s the thing. Not all stress is bad for you. In fact, you need some level of stress. A minimal level of stress is needed to deal with challenge and makes you feel excited and engaged. For example, a minimum level of stress before an important examination motivates you to work hard and achieve your goals. Continue reading
When we experience really difficult times at work, the importance of the meaning of the work we do comes to the fore. It’s only when we feel the work is meaningful, that it makes sense to work long hours and persevere through difficulties. Otherwise, why not just give up?
The value of meaning does not stop there. Research has shown that employees who feel their work has meaning, work harder, longer and more creatively than those that don’t. This is reflected in the organisation by higher rates of customer commitment and investor interest, which enhances organisational competitiveness and the organisations sustainability (reference here).
This is where leading with meaning comes in. Effective leaders help their team members engage personally with the organisation’s challenges, by helping them find meaning in their work. When team members feel they are doing “good work” with like-minded colleagues, team and personal resilience is enhanced in the face of uncertainty, unwanted change and even adversity.
What can you do as a leader to lead with meaning to create engagement and resilience? Continue reading
In my resilience workshops (more here), it’s common for about 75% of the people to say that work demands interfere with family or home responsibilities, and about 65% say that family or home responsibilities interfere with their work.
They say that they start work earlier and finish later to cope with increased work load. When they get home, they are often still stressed, finding it difficult to relax and engage with the family. In turn, they take their guilt of not being the loving partner or parent they would like to be, back to their work place.
Stress is contagious, and like a ping-pong ball, bounces back and forth between partners ratcheting up the tension. Stressed couples quarrel and fight, withdraw, feel disconnected which in turn leads to bigger problems. Unchecked, long-term stress can result in feelings of isolation and being trapped in an unloved relationship.
Fortunately the vicious cycle of work-home stress can become a virtuous cycle when loving partners help each other to cope. Your loving partner is almost always the person on whom you rely for support, and when their support is effective, it deepens your relationship. Here are seven ways loving partners can prevent the stress of work damaging their home life and deepen their relationship: Continue reading
At times in everyone’s lives, things happen that just don’t make sense. Life isn’t fair – at work and at home.
When bad things happen to you or someone close to you, it’s a double whammy. You have to deal with the event and it’s aftermath, but what often makes it even worse is that sometimes it triggers questions that just don’t have a satisfactory answer.
At work for example, when the company merges with its bitterest competitor or when seemingly lucrative business lines are shut down or when highly valued people are replaced.
We have a need to make sense of life
As humans, we have a need to make sense of life events, and so when our old beliefs and explanations don’t work anymore, we feel frightened and out of control. The fear invokes our primitive “flight or fight” response, our thinking becomes inflexible and any creative problem-solving ability flies out the window.
When there is uncertainty and confusion in organisations, the role of the leader in providing direction and structure comes to the fore. Skilled leaders can prevent or at least mitigate this type of unhelpful reaction. The leader needs to make sense of what has happened for him/herself and at the same time help their teams that are struggling. This leadership role is called “sense making” and is a vital component of resilience leadership.
As a leader, there are five steps that will help your sense making when things don’t seem to make sense: Continue reading
Nine months after her first leadership appointment as Call Centre Manager with 35 team members, Jan was told that her area was to be phased out. This meant that she and her team members would be retrenched if they could not find alternate jobs in the organisation. Due to a head-count freeze, this was unlikely to happen.
She was also asked to maintain “business as usual” until the final closing down of the unit which would take several months.
She had to deal on a personal basis with her own anger and fear about what had happened. At the same time, she had to sustain the resilience of her team members, if she was going to have any hope of keeping the unit task-focused and productive to the very last day.
Ordinary people like Jan are called upon to be extra-ordinary leaders in really difficult times. It’s then that courage plays a central part in resilient leadership.
Organisations today operate in highly complex, fluid and uncertain environments. The organisations typically have multiple change initiatives on the go, each with deep impact. As a result, uncertainty, surprise and change have become pervasive in organisations.
Unfortunately, the skills of leaders to lead in this environment, and team members to cope and recover well, are not equally pervasive.
The change initiatives are sometimes beyond the ability of leaders to manage effectively. Also, team members often struggle to cope, particularly if the changes don’t make sense to them, or they are not sure of their priorities or they don’t feel valued.
The challenge that leaders face is to make fast-paced and extensive change a normal part of working life.
The following Resilient Leadership strategies will help your team members to cope during uncertainty, surprise and change: Continue reading
People tell me that they feel more over-stressed and overwhelmed than ever before. They have so much on their plates that they can’t find the time to do everything, let alone take time out to recover and refresh themselves.
They say that their usual solutions don’t work. They can’t find time to meditate, or exercise and even sleep properly. Life-work balance is a joke. No matter how hard they try, they seem to be achieving less and feel exhausted by demands at work and home.
Like them, are you also tired of being tired? If so, here are seven actions you can take right now to break out of this distressing cycle: Continue reading
It started when he told her senior management wanted a new procedure implemented in her work area. When she examined the implementation plans however, she was taken aback. There were many potential pitfalls, and if they didn’t work out, she would end up being blamed.
Sipho immediately went to her boss: “These plans are crazy and will never work!”
“Yes they will,” he responded.
“They won’t, and I want to change them,” Sipho shot back.
“No, stop overreacting and just follow instructions”, he said heatedly, and turned away to answer an incoming phone call.
Sipho left steaming. Why didn’t he just listen to her? Typical! The more she thought about his reaction, the angrier she became. Continue reading
We all experience difficulties in life, but sometimes it goes from “In every life, some rain must fall” (YouTube link here), to a flood. It can be caused by an unrelenting volume or pace of work. Or it can be caused by something deeply upsetting such as being retrenched or ending of a love-relationship.
When difficulties reach flood levels, some people are stretched beyond their limits. They don’t cope well. They feel defeated and sometimes spiral into hopelessness. Its’s as though they are drowning in a flood of difficulty and hardship.
In contrast, others cope and recover well. They manage to keep their experience of stress positive and struggle well. They are like a buoy in an ocean storm, submerged from time-to-time, but quickly bob up again. Continue reading
Are you over-stressed? I often hear people despairing that they are over-committed and over-stressed at work, and don’t know how to get off the treadmill. Work-life balance becomes unreachable, and they feel increasingly unable to be the loving parent or partner they would like to be.
This sentiment is echoed by M Scott Peck whose opening sentence in The Road Less Travelled is: “Life is difficult”. Even the Buddha teaches that the first of the “Four Noble Truths” is “Life is suffering”.
This is a rather bleak commentary on life, so let’s put it into perspective.
It’s true that we all experience some degree of difficulty, heartache, disappointment and even adversity. The practical implication for me is: can I minimise the suffering in a way that doesn’t also diminish experiencing the positive side of life?
Put differently, is it possible to cope well with what life throws at me and also to experience love, joy and happiness? Continue reading
Right now the world’s eyes are on international rugby, football, cricket and other sporting competitions. Each match is “to do or die” for the players, with money, prestige and national pride riding on the outcome.
What do successful coaches say to their teams when they’re losing and are often frustrated and demoralized?
Is threatening the most effective strategy? In other words, motivate them by kicking their butts. Or is it more effective to find something that they are doing to praise? In other words, motivate them by making them feel good about themselves? Continue reading