Leadership Resilience, Especially in a Pandemic

Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept it and try to put together something that’s good. ~Elizabeth Edwards

Resilience. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, likely because we are living through a pandemic. I’m consequently spending time looking for leaders who will guide their organizations through this season and come out the other side even stronger. Leaders who will model resilience.

In what I’ve been reading, I now have a bit different view as to what resilience is, and is not. Resilience is about managing expectations and focusing energy on what we can control. It is not necessarily about being “tough,” although Merriam-Webster would differ and considers “tough” synonymous with resilient.

I believe that resilience is proactive, and I typically think of “tough” as being more reactive. Being resilient means you are always preparing, developing a mindset that keeps you resilient. It’s not something you work towards, and then stop working because you’ve accomplished “resilience.” It’s more like the athlete who gets in top physical condition, and then keeps working to maintain that physical condition. That feels very proactive to me. Tough, on the other hand, feels more like the athlete who maybe doesn’t prepare as much and just endures the pain really well.

How do we become more resilient, especially as leaders? I’m going to begin to unpack what I’m learning. Here’s a start.

Keep Your Expectations Low

Keeping expectations low may sound like I’m saying be more pessimistic. I wouldn’t go that far. It means that unrealistic expectations can lead to profound disappoint when things don’t materialize like we had hoped. The problem is that being overly optimistic limits our motivation to take decisive action to actually make our situation better.

We need to communicate somewhat paradoxical thinking by (a) believing and saying that eventually things will work out or get better, AND (b) accept and say that it could be difficult for some time before that happens. Then get to work on making things even a little better in the present.

Focus on What You Can Control

Here are two examples from the NeuroLeadership Institute that illustrate why focusing on what you can control is so important to resilience. A sense of control over one’s workspace showed over a 30% increase in people’s performance. A sense of control over room layout halved the death rate in one study in an elderly person’s home. Focusing on what you can control matters.

As a leader, what are you communicating right now? Are you talking about all of the things that we can’t control because of the pandemic. Are you telling people to just “wait it out”? Or, are you intentionally talking about and giving people work to focus on that gives them a sense of control? What are you modeling? Are you, the leader, focusing your attention on things you can control?

Be a resilient leader through the pandemic. Start by managing expectations without being overly optimistic and focus your organization on what you can control. Resilience is leading with bold grace.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *