Recently I had the opportunity to speak at the 4th Women in Leadership in Emergency Services, Defence and Law Enforcement Conference, Australia. I shared the platform with the Deputy Commissioner of Queensland Police and the CEO of Crimestoppers. They were impressive to say the least!
My topic was building resilience and as I listened to stories from speakers and participants about the situations they regularly face, I was struck by the complexity and the intensity of their stressors. As with all successful leaders resilience was a key foundation of their leadership.
Resilience is what allows us to stay strong in the face of adversity. It allows us to bounce back so we can rediscover a place where we can thrive. I don't think this thriving is ever achieved by accident: it requires intention and commitment and above all, self-awareness. From my research and experience, self-awareness is the most critical leadership trait, and nowhere is this truer than when it comes to our capacity to build our own resilience as well as help our teams build theirs.
Many leaders live in a constant state of high alert. Their every day reality consists of difficult decisions in complex environments with shifting goal posts so it is no wonder that stress is their constant companion. However whether it is a reasonable response or not doesn’t alter the fact that living with such high levels of stress is dangerous for the leader’s health and well-being and also for the health and well-being of the team.
Recent research in the field of neuroscience has revealed that both stress and emotions are highly contagious in the workplace. And, the higher you are on the leadership ladder, the more contagious your emotional state and stress levels are. So how can you manage your stress and emotional state to be contagious in a positive rather than a negative way? Here are some suggestions to help you manage your stress and build your resilience adapted from HBR researchers Alia and Thomas Crum’s article, Stress Can Be a Good Thing If You Know How to Use It:
- Name it – instead of racing through your day on high alert or with a low-grade irritability or anxiety, acknowledge and identify the source of your stress. You can’t deal with what you won’t acknowledge.
- Own it – it’s also important to acknowledge the appropriateness of your stress. Often you experience stress or painful emotions because you are deeply passionate about what you do and the people in your world. This makes you a caring person, which is a great quality and something to be proud of. Owning what is good about you boosts your resilience reserves.
- Use it – reframe your negative perception about your circumstances and plan to use the stress to your advantage. Stress has been shown to have some incredibly positive upsides, including: improved memory and intelligence, increased productivity, greater mental toughness, deepened relationships and heightened awareness. By acknowledging these stress superpowers you are more likely to be able to tap into them to achieve better outcomes.
- Learn from it - reflect on what you have noticed during your stressful or difficult time. What did you do well? What could you have done differently? This reflection is a key aspect of building your resilience and will help you to learn the skills to continue to thrive even in adverse or stressful circumstances.