Resilience and change
Ability to cope with unwanted and stressful change at work and home
Ability to cope with unwanted and stressful change at work and home
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.
Achieving greatness at work
You work hard for success, recognition and greatness at work. You love the rush of firing on all cylinders, and being engaged and committed to your work. You naturally receive rewards and recognition …… which drives you to work even harder.
The dark side of greatness
But ask yourself:
There is a dark side when the greatness achieved in one area of life comes at a significant cost in another. It may happen to high-flying executives who are so dedicated to their work that they become helicopter parents, disconnected from their children. Or to a highly respected doctor who becomes emotionally distant in order to cope with suffering seen daily. Continue reading
Successful leaders get things done. They think big, drive for results, take risks and deliver on their plans. They also do something that is less known, and that is they ask for help. When facing difficulties, they ask for help in a way that builds cooperation and respect.
Some leaders don’t feel comfortable asking for help, when self-sufficiency is prized in our western work. They fear asking for help may be seen as a sign of weakness or that they are not competent. Yet, the same leaders often struggle with an increased work load and lament the lack of cooperation in their organisation.
If leaders are reluctant to seek help themselves, it sends a signal to their team members that admitting vulnerability and not coping is unacceptable in the organisation. If this happens, feelings of isolation and alienation will increase with the rise of organisational uncertainty.
It’s only when leaders model that seeking help is not only acceptable but is actually desirable, that the team and ultimately the organisation will be able to proactively get the resources they need to support themselves and to transition the organisation through difficulties.
This was also borne out in my research on personal resilience (more here), which found that asking for help and also giving help was one of the seven components of resilience.
So how can you overcome an inherent reluctance to ask for help, and to ask for help in a way that enhances your reputation as a leader, rather than diminishes it? Here are some ideas: 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
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
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.
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
Some years back, I managed sales and administration teams. Some teams consistently exceeded targets whilst others consistently under performed. The under-performing teams inevitably blamed market conditions and other environmental factors for their lack-luster performance.
Yet some of the top performing teams faced even worse obstacles and still managed to excel.
So what could explain the difference?
I eventually concluded that the difference in team performance arose as a result of how the teams reacted to their difficulties.
Top performing teams viewed their difficulties as challenges that could be overcome. They believed their work was meaningful. They assisted and helped each other. Their leaders were visible and involved with their teams. As a result, the top performing teams coped much better with unrelenting pressure, change and uncertainty.
Put simply, the difference was in the teams’ resilience. 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
The Building Resilience Handbook is normally available as an e-book for Kindle at $13.65. To thank you for reading my newsletters about resilience, I am making it freely available to you for a limited period.
Have a look at some of the reviews of the book:
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. Continue reading
Dinah did. Her work days were filled with back-to-back meetings which meant she frequently only got to her accumulated e-mails and voice-messages after supper. Tension caused pain in her shoulders, neck and stomach. She was not the senior manager, mother or partner she wanted to be.
She described herself as a fly trapped on sticky flypaper. No matter how much she tried, she could not break free. She felt dispirited and hopeless.
Our coaching focused on regaining her self-confidence and zest for life. We started with an exercise to help her reconnect with the important things in her life. It’s called the Best Possible Self exercise and has been proven to boost positive emotions, happiness levels, optimism and hope . Continue reading
Stop living your life on autopilot!
Have you ever drunk a cup of coffee or eaten a chocolate bar and don’t remember how it tasted? Or had to turn back unnecessarily on a journey because you didn’t remember locking the front door? Or tuned-out while your loved-one was talking?
These are signs you are living your life on autopilot. It’s really sad if you are so stressed, distracted and unaware that you miss out on much of your life.
To check if you’re living your life on autopilot, ask yourself if any of the following applies to you: Continue reading
If you feel you have a stressful job you’re not alone. 83% of workers in the USA feel stressed out by their jobs (reference here) and in South Africa it’s estimated that 60% of lost working days each year are a result of stress (reference here).
Some working conditions make jobs particularly stressful:
I hate chaotic mornings. Some years I battled every morning to get my children to school before the school bell. Tears and recriminations made for a really stressful start to the day.
The breakthrough came at the end of a particularly difficult week. We sat down together and agreed that we weren’t happy and had to change our behaviour. Not just the children, but the parents too. Continue reading
You have a visionary strategy that will deliver competitive advantage. The executives are ecstatic …. but over time the strategy fails to deliver the anticipated benefits.
Why is it so difficult to implement strategy?
It’s because the real problem is getting people to implement the strategy.
We know strategy involves change. So we create people engagement activities, but on their own, they are not sufficient to ensure that strategy is successfully implemented!
Surprises are the new normal
The Harvard Business Review recently stated that surprises are the new normal in organisations (reference here). When these surprises result in you having to implement unwanted and unsettling change, you need to be a resilient leader.
Being a resilient leader requires helping your team members stay task focused and productive, operating as thought it’s “business as usual” when it’s clearly not. Critically, you and your team members need to stress positive, and not allow any negative stress from work or life to influence each other.
What can you do if your team isn’t resilient, and doesn’t cope well with setbacks and unwelcome change? What do you do if they become demoralized, loose energy or resist change despite the usual change management activities (here)? Continue reading
We all want to be mentally strong to cope when bad things happen. But being mentally strong is not only for bad times, it’s for good times too. Being mentally strong is all about the way you interpret and explain to yourself the stuff that happens in your life. It’s an attitude you put into practice every day.
In previous Building Resilience Updates, I described what mental toughness is (here) and have also given the formula of how to be mentally strong (here). Now I am going to describe five things that mentally strong people don’t do and some give some alternatives. Continue reading
Life is just not fair! That’s why we need to be resilient and mentally strong. I described what mental strength is in the previous Building Resilience Update (here), and I will now explain how to be mentally strong.
Stick with me as I give you some theory first.
At its core, mental strength is all about how we interpret the things that happen to us, as we make sense of our lives. What’s fascinating is that mentally strong people interpret the difficult things that happen in their lives completely differently to the people who are less mentally strong. Mentally tough people explain a negative event to themselves by: Continue reading
Last week started with a frantic call from a friend: “The security company called to say that my house has been broken into. The front door is broken and standing wide open. Please will you go and help?”
She was holidaying in Knysna, about six hours away. We rushed over to her house, to find drawers strewn about, and her flat screen TVs and jewelry missing.
Midweek I spent some time with two senior managers who had been retrenched. My brief was to assist them to find replacement income streams.
At the end of the week, I addressed a workshop on how the alarmingly high drop-out rate of first year university students can be reduced. Continue reading