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Resilient Leadership

How resilient leaders use positive emotions during organisational turbulence

How resilient leaders use positive emotions during organisational turbulence

people-690105_1920 no attributionThe 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

Positive emotions, according to researcher Barbara Frederickson, broaden people’s mind-sets to enable discovery of new ideas and take innovative action. They increase in our personal resources and capabilities that can be called upon later in difficult times. They help us:

·         Increase our general awareness.

·         Be more creative.

·         Make better decisions.

·         Be more trusting and open.

·         Enhance our cardiovascular ability to recover from stress.

·         Improve school academic results.

But wait there’s more! Not only broadening thinking and building psychological resources, positive emotions also trigger further upward spirals of enhanced well-being.

In other words, feeling good enables you to cope today and function better tomorrow.

Should leaders pretend to be positive, even when they aren’t?

As a leader, trying to be positive when you aren’t is usually not very successful. That’s because if the little voice in the back of your head says: “You are such a fraud”, you simply can’t fool yourself. When you feel insincere, it’s usually obvious to others who will see you as being false. So the strategy of “fake it till you make it” just doesn’t work.

To change your feelings, change with your thinking

When you’re feeling overly negative, and want to be more positive, change your thinking.

Our feelings come from the way we experience and interpret the world — through our thoughts. Ask yourself if the way you thinking is serving you well. In other words, are you feeling good about yourself and happy? If not, you can change your thoughts by:

·         Letting go of over-thinking about misfortune in the past

·         Trying to think only about those things that you can change.

·         Finding some good in the present, particularly during difficult times.

·         Striving to be curious, kind, grateful, involving others and most of all, being authentic.

When you change your thoughts, you change your mind. When you change your mind, you change your perspective. A positive perspective will create genuine positive emotions. These positive emotions will become the foundation for you to cope with adversity.

How resilient leaders influence with positive emotions

Here are four actions to provide powerful positive emotional leadership during organisational upheaval and turbulence:

1.   Show compassion

There is always some pain in organisations. Team members want leaders who care.

You can do this by showing appropriate concern and compassion. (More here)

2.   Express gratitude

Giving recognition and expressing personal gratitude is the mark of a powerful leader. Team members want leaders who recognise and appreciate their best efforts.

You can do this by giving public recognition and by writing short, private “thank you” notes to deserving people.

3.   Change their thinking

When your team members’ thinking becomes overly negative, help them to reframe restructure their thinking to be realistically positive:

You can do this by using these three powerful questions (More here):

a.    How can we come to terms with what has happened and accept it?

b.    What can we learn from it?

c.    Is there an opportunity for us to take action to move forward?

4.   Model being realistically positive and optimistic

Use the power of your leadership role to influence your team members by modelling the behaviour you would like them to display.

You can do this by telling stories reflecting on past difficulties and how you and the team got through them. Also, realistically interpret present difficulties as having limited impact and short duration. (More here)

Using positive emotional leadership

Your positive emotional leadership will help your team members cope better with unsettling change and be more resilient. Not only well everyone feel better, but everyone will work better too.

This will substantially increase the probability of success of your change initiatives.

Would your positive emotional leadership help your teams?


A photo by Priscilla Westra. the Dark Side of Greatness

There is a dark side when the success achieved at work comes at a significant cost. You end up sacrificing your soul and not being the loving partner and parent you would like to be. Discover how to use your strengths without self-sabotage, enhance your energy reserves and  minimize the impact of your stress triggers (read more here)

Resilient Leadership WorkshopResilient Leadership Workshop
Leaders learn how to keep stress positive. They assess their Team Members strategy-fitness and learn three resilience coaching techniques. The outcome is the leaders are better able to deliver organisational strategy and coach their team members when their resilience lags (read more here).

Building Resilience workshopBuilding Resilience Workshop

Team members and specialists learn how to bounce back from difficult organisation and life events, such as significant change, setbacks and hardship. The outcome is they are able to resist stressful experiences impacting on their job productivity and stay calm and healthy (read more here).

Mental Strength training

Mental Strength Training

Mental Strength training helps people keep task-focused and persistent. Mental Strength training teaches the process and tools to remain composed under pressure and less vulnerable to emotional slumps at work and at home (read more here).

How to lead when people are in pain

pexels-photo-87584There 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

How to ask for help and enhance your reputation as a leader

ID-10046852Successful 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

Finding strength to be a resilient leader during difficult times

strengthTo 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

Leading with meaning during difficulties

leadership meaning makingWhen 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

Leading when things don’t make sense

ID-10097140At 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

How to Lead with Courage and Resilience

ID-10081666Nine 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.

Continue reading

Leading with resilience in the face of uncertainty, surprise and change.

exposed-tree-rootsOrganisations 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

How to build a resilient team

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

How to disagree with your boss

ID-10091466 (1) - Copy

When you know you’re right, and your boss is wrong, deciding whether to speak up is often difficult. You may feel that to be respectful you have to tone down your disagreement. And if you are to be honest, you’re going to hurt her feelings.

You don’t want to make things worse, but not voicing your concerns feels like you are agreeing. Right?

This dilemma comes up often in my coaching practice, and we have found a way of tackling it. Here’s what works:


Step one: Understand your motivation

Why do you have the feelings you do? Is it only about the issue, or does it also bring up other issues you are not happy about? Continue reading

Develop mental strength with five powerful exercises


Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed? If so, you are not alone. I am often asked how to cope when you are feeling really vulnerable, but you have to be strong.

The answer, according to the highly regarded scientist Angela Duckworth, is to develop mental strength, which she calls “grit”. She has found that mental strength is what differentiates people who persist and achieve long-term excellence, as opposed to those who start off well, but lose enthusiasm and give up.

Also, she has found that mental strength is the best predictor of success in school, the military and corporate sales, rather than intelligence or even luck (more here).

Would you like to develop your mental strength? If so, there are five powerful exercises, based on Angela Duckworth’s research, which I have found to be very helpful. These exercises will help you persevere and keep motivated when dealing with big issues like unwelcome change and stress at work or home, or even sticking to a diet, a financial budget or a study plan (more here). Continue reading

8 activities to enhance meaning in life

It’s perhaps obvious that having meaning in your life is important. Without meaning life is….well, just not worthwhile. But more than only making you feel good, meaning gives you the power to cope with life’s inevitable ups and downs.

When you have deep meaning in life, you are better able to keep perspective and still experience joy and happiness even when things are really tough.

I have found however, that people sometimes get confused between “purpose” and “meaning” in life. “Purpose” is complicated and often involves deep questions, such as is there a deity out there who cares about me and what am I supposed to do with my life? Some people have a life quest to find their purpose in life!

“Meaning” in life on the other hand, is fortunately much simpler. You seek your purpose in life, whereas you create meaning by what you do.

So what should you do to create and enhance meaning in your life?

Continue reading

Why is it so difficult to implement strategy?

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.

The role of strategy engagement

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!

The missing element: resilience

Continue reading

Why is it so hard to be a resilient leader during organisational change?

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