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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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