Cracking the Code of Resilient Leadership


Constant disruption and increasing complexity define a new normal today, particularly for businesses like healthcare and entertainment. Most executives now must regularly “change the tires on a moving bus,” which requires shorter-term planning, agile decision-making and effective execution with unwavering focus, while adapting and learning in the moment.

However leaders show up, whether it’s calm or frenetic, assured or afraid, focused or overwhelmed, their teams will become a reflection of them. Stress can be contagious, as can resilience and humor and all other behaviors that we bring to our work. Resilient leaders encourage employees to confidently resist panic, inspire them to stay on task, and motivate them to remain committed to the goal, even while the sands are shifting under their feet. Conversely, leaders who break, rather than bend, will find themselves with employees who are confused, frustrated, perhaps even fearful – and unproductive.

Learning to master resilience will create a platform for better learning and execution of all other leadership skills. Resilient and adaptive executives create organizations that thrive in the modern state of flux.

The Three C’s of Resilience
Begin by evaluating the first “C,” the Cost of Distraction. Missing a cue or being out of touch is a fast path to being caught flat-footed – the opposite of resilient. Resilient leaders have learned to be self-aware and present in the moment. It’s hard to be resilient with constant change if you are unaware that change is even happening.

Our focus and attention is seduced daily by the constant barrage of emails, voice mails, texts, and other dings, buzzes and interruptions. Resilient leaders in meetings discipline themselves and teach others to be in the meeting – not reading email or texts. Resisting distractions takes commitment to the important few priorities that require your focus and attention, and a mindfulness of what the important activities are to achieve those priorities.

Learn to make the most of a 40-50 hour week by making disciplined choices to eliminate sources of distraction. A study performed with knowledge workers in 2007 calculated the cost of distracted workers to our economy at $585 billion. In today’s dollars it would be closer to $1 trillion. Know the cost of your distracted behaviors, and create time in your calendar to find quiet, focused time for your priorities.

The next “C” of resilience is Competency of Commitment. This is the practice of knowing when to say “yes” to a commitment, and when to say “no.” When every day is overbooked, resilience will be out of reach. Saying “no” to off-goal commitments preserves the buffer of extra time, which is key to flexibility. Seth Godin has quoted Bilbo Baggins asking, “Is it too little butter, or too much bread?” How do we do more with less, and extrapolating that a bit, how can we see that less can be more?

For example, think about the last decision that you made when you were rushed, unfocused and distracted. It’s hard to be present and make good decisions when you don’t allow yourself enough time to think. Taking breaks allows for more resilient decision-making, and also prepares you to be more effective when the decision is truly urgent and important.

The third “C” of resilience is Choice-Driven Action. Resilient leaders maximize every choice through intention, control and practice. In our world of constant stimulation and distraction, it’s easy to be off-the-chain busy and not accomplish anything that pertains to our priorities.
Bring intention to every choice. Avoid thoughtless reaction, and gravitate toward thoughtful proaction. One of my mentors in resilience is Doug Silsbee, a pioneer in presence-based leadership. To achieve more choice-driven action, Doug challenges us to ground at least 10 times a day – a few minutes to breathe, feel your feet on the floor and reshape your posture as you allow your brain to settle and regain focus.

I recently read that General Motors spends more money on healthcare related to stress and associated illnesses and medications than they do on the steel they use to build their cars. Making choices from a place of stress and distraction just doesn’t even sound like a good idea, yet we and our teams accept that behavior as standard practice.

Benefits to People, Teams and Companies
Leaders who crack the code to resilience will find that dozens of other leadership characteristics are suddenly more accessible to them. The ability to convince, to encourage, to instill confidence in others – these skills are challenging, if not impossible for a person who panics in the face of change.

Individuals benefit from personal resilience in the form of confidence, reduced stress and improved job satisfaction. Teams following resilient leaders benefit from increased stability, better clarity of purpose and strong camaraderie. And at the highest level, organizations managed by resilient leaders are the most profitable and sustainable.

Rapid change is our new normal, and resiliency offers a distinct competitive advantage in running successful companies and productive teams. Cracking the code begins with daily practices that build resilient behaviors that impact better decisions and employee engagement.