Leadership Resilience in Times of Crisis
Patrick Psaila
November 19, 2020

Over the past months many organisational leaders were faced with the difficult task of navigating their businesses through loss of revenue, low morale, fear and anxiety, uncertainty, health concerns, finding new ways of working and a deep preoccupation about the future. This reality is bound to remain and possibly intensify in the foreseeable future.  Leaders need to work hard to mitigate the negative impact of this new reality. They need to see that employees remain connected even if they are working remotely; that performance is monitored fairly and is evaluated; that the wellbeing of their people is given high priority, that employee engagement, morale and motivation are maintained and that enough business is generated to keep the show on the road and when possible avoid redundancies or closure. This is a tall order even for the most seasoned and experienced leader.   Meeting such challenging demands makes it is essential that leaders invest in their own wellbeing and self-care by engaging in the following resilience building practices.

  1. Connecting to purpose: During times of crisis it is tempting to switch to survival mode and lose sight of our core purpose and values. Connecting to these and ensuring that decisions and actions are aligned with one’s values can be a deep source of satisfaction that strengthens motivation and sustains one’s efforts. A strong sense of purpose also strengthens leaders’ resolve to emerge through crises and overcome obstacles.
  2. Avoiding isolation: Leaders can become very lonely when the going gets tough. People turn to them for courage, support, and solutions, expecting them to remain strong in the face of adversity. This can make it difficult for leaders to acknowledge their own vulnerability and anxiety.  Such stress may lead to burnout. Reaching out to peers and mentors is one way of reducing isolation. It is an opportunity to share ideas, brainstorm solutions, understand, support, share resources, encourage one another, and connect with others dealing with similar challenges.
  3. Adopting a growth mindset: The saying that ‘Everything happens for a reason’ may sound like an annoying cliché. It is certainly not helpful to people who are struggling with adversity. However, we do have an opportunity to find purpose in every challenge. A growth mindset involves an attitude that regards every event as a learning opportunity, as a chance to take the next step in one’s growth path. It can be a time to reflect, prioritise, take stock, and possibly redefine our purpose and direction.
  4. Moderating our stress levels: The stress of leadership during challenging situations can have a serious impact on leaders’ physical and psychological health. It is fundamentally important to attend to self-care. Daily exercise, healthy nutrition, sufficient rest, and relaxation are four “non-negotiables” that reduce stress. Leaders can easily neglect themselves when inundated with challenging demands, difficult decisions and challenging scenarios, and yet, this is the time when self-care is crucial.  By managing stress, leaders can avoid exhaustion, build stamina, and maintain their sustained effort.
  5. Benefit finding: Leaders who identify the benefits that can be derived from challenging situations and communicate those benefits to their people, generate positive energy and enable themselves and others to find the necessary drive to move forward. Benefit finding includes making an intentional effort to practice gratitude and finding things to be grateful for even during adversity and struggle.
  6. Practicing emotional regulation: In times of crisis, our brain goes into overdrive and our natural negativity bias, designed to protect us from threatening situations, becomes hyper-activated. We may experience irritability, anger, helplessness, frustration, impatience, and a sense of panic possibly resulting in impulsive and irrational decisions. By learning how to manage their emotions and behavioural responses, leaders can achieve calm and clarity before taking action. This will enable them to take sound, well thought-out decisions.

Leading organisations in times of crisis comes with great responsibility and can weigh heavily on one’s shoulders, especially in the long term. By prioritising the above resilience builders, leaders can come a long way in keeping emotionally, physically, and mentally fit as they weather the storm and sail towards calmer waters.

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