3 Ways To Build Your Resilience As An Effective Leader

Why is it that everyone who works for me always cries?
She asked bluntly as I sat there, crying. I was in my mid-twenties working in banking and dealing with my new manager, who seemed to take pleasure in making each of her direct reports cry. 
Up until that point, I thought of myself as resilient. I had seen people cry in the office and have meltdowns.
But I was not that guy. I was tough. I dealt with the stress of the job the best way I knew how. By working long hours and then going out for alcohol-fuelled nights until sunrise.
Oh, I was wrong.


It wasn’t till a decade later when I met my now wife, that I learned resilience wasn’t toughing it out or bottling it up. 
Now I work with a range of different leaders and help them build their resilience. First, I want to clarify that resilience isn’t about being tough or pushing through it. This approach is not sustainable and can have an impact on your mental and physical health. 
I define resilience as a good leader’s ability to adapt in the face of change, challenges or setbacks, and to continue to strive towards that end goal, while positively supporting your team performance. 
Now that is a lot to take it so let me unpack that. Firstly it is the leader’s ability to adapt to the changing conditions. It has been clear that the global pandemic and ripple effects from that have thrown people’s lives upside down. 
Great leaders I have worked with got through the initial shock of the lockdown by hitting pause on their planning rather than simply working harder. They took the time to reassess what the changed conditions meant for them and their teams in the short to medium term and made decisions accordingly. 
The second part of the statement focuses on supporting your team's success, ensuring during change times, they can look to you for guidance, stability and emotional intelligence. However, this has come at a cost for some of my clients. 
Continually giving your energy to your team has left many clients mentally and physically drained. As they too are trying to navigate uncertain times. 
Resilience is like a muscle; the more you exercise it, the stronger it will get. However, if you overuse for extended periods, then it will be exhausted and need a chance to recharge. 
As a leader, how can you build up your resilience? 
My approach to building your resilience focuses on these three areas:

  • Your Physical Well-Being
  • Your Mindset
  • Your Purpose

Step 1 – Improve Your Well-being

I know it may sound counter-intuitive, but to give more to others, you need first to spend time taking care of yourself.  This is an important leadership quality.
Physical well-being leads to reduced stress levels, more positive relationships and better productivity.
According to Gallup, “Those with high physical well-being have more energy to get more done in less time. They are more likely to be in a good mood, boosting the engagement of their colleagues and customers.” While this sounds easy to understand, it is often the area that we least apply to ourselves.
Your daily routine doesn’t need to be erroneous and should not add more stress to your life. An ideal routine should include three key areas – eat, sleep, train. Consider food as fuel and fuel yourself with the right mix to get you through the day.

Prioritise sleep, ideally 7-9 hours and fit in regular exercise. Again this doesn’t have to be strenuous you could take a 30-minute walk, hit the gym or whatever physical activity you enjoy.
If you are struggling with all three of these areas, don’t try and tackle everything at once. Pick one area, for example, sleep, and make that a focus for the next four weeks. Once you are regularly hitting 7-9 hours of sleep each night, then focus on the next area. Remember, the focus is about building your resilience by taking care of yourself, not adding more stress to your life.


Fit man
Step 2 – Tackle Your Mental Barriers

Sometimes the most significant obstacles we create are in our minds.
When things go wrong as a leader, it can be common to blame yourself for the failure even if that is outside of your control. While the approach of taking accountability can be productive at times, it can also lead to us spending too much time berating ourselves. The negative self-talk can also hinder your ability to find creative and practical solutions to tackle your challenge. 
Below are some activities I do with clients to help them shift their mindset and create new solutions. 

  1. Take a different perspective: An exercise I have regularly used with clients is asking “If your friend was facing this challenge and asked you for advice, what would you suggest they do? The purpose of this exercise is to get you to examine the problem from a different perspective and open your mind up to new ways of thinking. If it helps you can replace friend with someone who characterised as having a high level of resilience. 
  1. Replicate success: There is a high likelihood that one or more people that you know have faced a similar challenge. Reach out to them and find how they tackled it and what was the outcome. This can help you can devise new strategies to how you might address your challenge.


Woman covering her face


Step 3 – Find your Purpose through self-reflection

As humans, we are always seeking a sense of purpose, a meaning to our lives when you consider that 1/3 of our lives at work, it makes sense that we would want to find meaning from our work. 
When my clients are feeling deeply frustrated with their work, it usually stems from a misalignment between their purpose and their company’s purpose. However, if you and the company’s mission are aligned, then you are connected to something broader than your everyday work. People are more likely to feel engaged in their work if they can clearly understand how their work is helping to create a better future for the organisation.
If you are not sure, then the following approach can help you, that I have used with many of my clients. The concept is called Ikigai, and it is a Japanese term that roughly translates to “reason for being.”
I love this approach because it provides a workable model through which to find your purpose. The model focuses on finding the balance between the spiritual and practical aspects of your life. Specifically, the balance is located at the intersection of four areas, what you love, what the world needs, what you are good at, and what people will pay you to do. 
If you find yourself staring at the diagram and wondering where to start. Go old school with a pen and paper and ask yourself these questions:

  • What would I do, even I was not paid?
  • What do my family and friends say I am good at or should be doing as a job
  • If I won the lotto, what would I spend my time doing?
  • What activities make my soul come to life?
  • What is my perfect day?

Once you are clear on your purpose, I recommend you write it down as a single statement. That way, you can reflect on it when times get tough, or you need to make difficult decisions. 

man with ideas

We have examined the three areas to develop your resilience, Wellbeing, Mindset and Purpose. However, each of these areas is interlinked. For example, it’s hard to think clearly if you only had 4 hours of sleep and a coffee for breakfast. 
As a leader, maintaining personal resilience is as important as building other of your technical or business skills.
Remember, start small and build it up. You won’t run a marathon tomorrow if you have haven’t left the couch in weeks. Be kind to yourself, realise that it takes time to build your resilience. However, with consistent effort and focus, it will get stronger. 
The above is taken from my upcoming book, How To Grow Tall Poppies, A Leader’s Guide To Cultivating High Performing Teams.