Resilient leadership: Navigating pressures at work

male managers, woman presenting, stressed womanOver the last twelve years I’ve been delivering leadership development programs around the concept of leading change and challenge through RESILIENCE.

During times of significant change,  I’ve seen both the best and the worst in human behaviour, and I believe navigating pressures at work depends greatly on the stories we tell and how we tell them.

Those stories come in three categories – stories about yourself, stories about others, and stories about your circumstances. This approach is called an individual’s “explanatory style.” It is how we explain events in our world. Numerous researchers have identified an optimistic explanatory style is associated with better academic, athletic and work performance, better coping skills, less likely to succumb to depression and better physical health.

So how do we tell the kinds of stories that will make a positive impact on our ability to cope with changing and ever intensifying workplace challenges?

Tip #1 — Adopt a Growth Mindset, No Matter What the Circumstance

When you look at your experience, no matter how negative, with an attitude of growth and learning something magical happens. Research on women with breast cancer shows a powerful impact of explanatory style on healing. Those with a positive explanatory style might say “I’m grateful to the cancer for showing me who my friends are/ helping me re-evaluate my priorities/ giving me a sense of what’s most important in life.” Tell yourself a story of how you’ve transcended or learned from challenges before – because that means you can do it again. Find the positives and the learning within what you are grappling with at work. 

Tip #2 — Refrain from Blame and Stay Sane

When we’re stressed, it’s a lot easier to blame people or circumstances for things that go wrong. It gives us an outlet for frustration, fear and anger. However, it’s not particularly useful as a problem-solving exercise, or ultimately for your own sanity!  The concept of conducting “autopsies without blame” comes from a seminal business book of the 1990s called Good to Great. It’s the idea that when mistakes happen, we need to figure out why they happen in order to learn and grow. If someone contributed to the mistake, assume they had positive intentions and find out what those were. Recently one of our team members made a mistake during a contract negotiation with a client, and her true intention was to be of service, so she stepped into someone else’s role in order to move the project forward. Her intention was a positive one, which was to help! The result was a breakdown in communication and role clarity, which was fixed once we identified what happened. Tell the story of a breakdown as the road to a breakthrough. 

Tip #3 — Find a Confidante and Vent as Necessary

As a leader, you may find yourself having to be a role model, and to “be the change you wish to see in the world.”  You, however, are allowed to have your own place to complain, vent, and clear out unwanted clutter in your mind so that you can move forward positively and proactively at work. A great coach will help you clear out what’s bothering you so that you can be fresh and engaged with your team. Tell the story of your frustrations and negative emotions before reframing and re-telling the story from a place of empowerment. 

Karlin SloanAbout the author

Karlin Sloan is a global leadership & development coach, CEO of Sloan Group International and author of new book, Inspiring Leadership for Uncertain Times.






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