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Leading from a Place of Resilience

This is a topic we spoke about recently as the closing keynote of a Resilience and Wellbeing Conference and this writing is a reflection of that keynote address.

Resilience: the ability to adapt, change course, stay calm, recovery quickly and remain confident in the face of challenge. These are some of today’s most valuable and sought after leadership skills.

Resilience is not something you arrive at, it’s something you consistently choose. Becoming resilient and maintaining resilience is a never ending journey. Resilience is an intentional choice. A state of mind and state of being that we are committed to. It is our personal responsibility and takes a personalized approach to figure out how we get and stay there.

I know I am not leading from a place of resilience when I am feeling frantic, frustrated, anxious and when I’m experiencing ups and downs. My body feels tired, tight, tense. I am quick to anger or experience perpetual feelings of heaviness or despair. I am in a pattern of reacting and say things I don’t mean or use words and exhibit actions that are not representative of my best self. In this state I feel a desire to play the victim and to blame others. I find myself resisting change and grasping for control, comfort and security.

The sad fact that most of us are operating from this “lower state” each and everyday. It’s the only place we know. Some of us aren’t aware we are there (this was me for many, many years), some of us are in denial (this was also me for several years), and some of us know it and just can’t find our way out of it (I still encounter periods of this from time-to-time).

I want to offer some ideas about how to move into resilience by sharing what we see in our practice at The Restoration Project and what I have lived in my own experience as things that get in our way and practices we can employ to get to higher ground. What higher ground are we talking about? What does it look and feel like to lead from a place of resilience?

When I’m in that space I am at ease, experiencing mostly peace, regardless of what’s happening around me. I have a healthy and manageable amount of stress. I can be compassionate and curious, approaching stressful situations with an open heart and open mind. I am accepting the difficult realities I face without defensiveness, while maintaining hope that things can get better. My body is calm. I mostly have a smile on my face. My words are thoughtful, honest and kind. In Brene Brown’s words, I am exhibiting a Strong Back, Soft Front and Wild Heart.

Some reading this might believe this to be impossible, but the wisest among us have shown us that no matter what our circumstances, freedom and peace can be ours. That this is true resilience. I have experienced this to be true. When I am practicing the rituals the wise ones have taught us, I can experience it too. The practices and rituals are simple yet they take extreme discipline, focus, determination and commitment. I’ll walk us through what gets in the way and share examples of rituals and practices that can address that specific obstacle.

Lack of Awareness At any given moment, are you tuned into how you feel? What you need? What your thoughts, words or actions are and why you’re choosing them? For years and years people thought that humans were hardwired and unable to change so there wasn’t much research, training or discussion around self-awareness and understanding. More recent research shows that we are able to make great shifts in our patterns, habits, thinking and being if we are willing to put in effort.

I have experienced this in my own life. The experiences I had in childhood had me stuck in a very common pattern that’s tied to a trauma response. When we experience something that threatens us, each human typically reacts by falling into one of 4 responses: fight, flight, freeze or fawn. My response is fight. This showed up in pushing people away when they tried to get close, a need to always be right and be in control, a desire for intensity that was often destructive to myself and my relationships, etc.

As I continue to heal and evolve, I have come to realize that I was operating out of a belief that I was not safe. That may have been true once, but it is no longer true and the patterns that belief creates in my life have prevented me from health, wholeness and fulfilling relationships. I resisted feeling safe because it was foreign to me. I still do today. A state of peace and calm feel uncomfortable. Odd, but true. I have to choose to feel safe and calm and free. All the conditions are there for it, but I still have to override my old programming and choose it and accept it.

What core beliefs do you operate from? How might you need to address your own awareness?

Practice to try: In order to become more aware we need time and space in silence and solitude. You can start with small moments in your car. Keep the radio off and check in with yourself. How am I feeling right now? What do I need right now? The first step in getting stronger is always awareness. Allow the freedom and peace of the silence and solitude to come in. Allow all the thoughts that come up to come. Don’t resist them, simply acknowledge them and get curious about them. Allow and accept. This simple practice of giving your mind, heart, body and spirit time to process all that’s happening is so good of us.

Denial When we move into awareness, it is common to go straight into denial. We bring our beliefs, feelings and needs into awareness and we immediately feel shame, guilt, overwhelm, anxiety or a combination of them all. Instead of allowing us to face and feel we distract ourselves and keep busy, or we simply suppress whatever comes up by shoving it back down.

While in the short term it may seem easier to be in denial of our reality, this dissonance inside us will eventually leak out. We may form habits to numb the feelings (eating, drinking, binging TV, etc.). Those suppressed feelings will cause stress in our body and we will find ourselves overreacting or under functioning. Those suppressed thoughts will stay stuck in our minds and create anxiety if we don’t let them out and validate them…even if they aren’t real.

Instead of carrying and burying things, we need to learn to attend and befriend our thoughts and feelings. To process them. We acknowledge them, allow them to exist, get curious about what they are telling us and the let them go.

For example, if we have a difficult phone call that leaves us irritated and frustrated and we simply try to deny those feelings as we go into a meeting, people will sense our irritation and frustration. It will come out in the energy we bring into the room, our body posture and our tone and words. If you’re saying, no…not me right now, you are in denial. 😉

A better approach would be to share with everyone in the room that you just got off a difficult call and you’re feeling irritated and frustrated but it’s not about them. You are at least acknowledging your feelings, but you haven’t reached the release part yet. At least then the people in the room aren’t left wondering and walking on egg shells. It’s mildly less disruptive to the meeting.

The best approach is to take some time to process (attend and befriend) what just happened and how you are feeling. Give yourself some space and time to acknowledge your feelings of irritation and frustration, accept that’s how you’re feeling, consider if those feelings will be helpful or hurtful as you move through the rest of your day and choose to let them go. Now in some cases, you just can’t let them go. Then we employ additional processing mechanisms like breathing, a walk, journaling, exercising, etc. until the feelings shift.

If you don’t have time for those things and cannot shift your schedule, simply putting a plan in place can help you process and get the feelings to shift. Later today, I’m going to bring these feelings back to my awareness while I’m exercising to work through this but right now I need to shift my focus to this meeting. Sometimes you have to intentionally choose to let them go if nothing else is working…and the great part is you have the power to do that! If you are stuck, you are keeping yourself there.

Where are you stuck in denial? What’s one thing you can do differently to move out of it?

Practice to try: A tool we often use to pull people out of denial is called SNAP. It stands for Stop, Notice, Ask, Pivot. When you feel stressed or frustrated or sad, or any other feeling strongly, try it!

  • Stop: Literally stop what you are doing, shift out of autopilot and come to the present moment.

  • Notice: Become aware of everything around you and inside you. Sounds, smells, sights, etc. as well as how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking.

  • Ask: Give yourself a series of relevant questions here that help you break your denial pattern like: What is happening right now? How am I feeling? What is really true? What do I need? What thought or action would best serve me in this moment?

  • Pivot: Intentionally choose your next thought or action (instead of repeating a pattern or reacting)

Lack of Vision and Hope If we are at a place where we are so far into a situation we can’t see our way out or feel like a victim of our circumstance, we will not be leading from a place of resilience. We must be able to employ the Stockdale Paradox as shared by Jim Collins, “You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time, have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Regardless of where we are, there is an opportunity to choose hope and to see a different vision of the future. If we can’t get there on our own, we must reach out to others for support. An outsider can give us new perspective and help us see choices that we just cannot see when we’re in it.

When clients come to us feeling stuck in their job and losing hope that anything will change, we simply encourage them to start looking for other jobs. This one act of expanding opportunities and seeing what else is out there typically frees them of that stuck feeling and opens up new possibilities to move forward…often in that same job.

Where have you lost vision and hope? Who is a trusted person that can help you see new perspectives?

Practice to try: Questions and/or action can often bring back vision and hope. If you want to try on your own consider questions like: What are the realities of what I’m facing and what does that mean for me? What is the best possible outcome here? What is within my control? If nothing changed, what could I change about me to thrive? If you just can’t get somewhere on your own, I would highly recommend inviting another person into your situation to help you think through your options.

Lack of Connection We simply cannot lead from a place of resilience if we are trying to live and lead on our own. We need community. We need each other. We all go through periods of challenge and change that require additional support and other perspectives. We have to relearn how to create connections, how to ask for help, and how to let others in.

One of my clients is much like me…when the going gets tough or there’s a complex problem to solve, he isolates himself from everyone else and gets stuck in his own head trying to solve it. He emerges with a solution and gets frustrated when his team doesn’t engage with the same enthusiasm he has. What he (and I) forget is that we have to include others in problem solving if we are going to get to the best idea and solution, and including others ensures that everyone will be bought in when we start to move and execute on the idea. If we can allow others in, we can come up with better solutions, quicker and we won’t have to fight to employ them.

One small change he has started to try is to give himself a framework to work through. Having that time alone to think through things is an important part of his process, but it needs to be done at the right time and in the right order. When an issue comes up, his new process is to pull together the team or go to key people to understand what the actual issue is. Get input, ideas and additional perspectives first before trying to problem solve. Next, go into his alone time to process but when he emerges, instead of presenting the solution he asks everyone to offer their solutions and his is one of many. This way they can evaluate all of them, adjust and come up with the best one. Everyone is included in the process and they are not being dictated to. Then it’s a team effort to resolve and we don’t have the ownership, execution and follow through issues we used to. This also lightens the load and burden the CEO carries. Win-win!

Where in your life and leadership are you attempting to go alone? Who can you invite in and how may you need to adjust your habits?

Practice to try: Asking for help and inviting people in is a lot easier when we have a relationship with them and we have added value to that relationship first. Make a list of 10 people closest to you. Commit to reaching out to someone once a week or once a day via text just to let them know you’re thinking of them. Make connecting with others and supporting others an intentional choice. When we are actively supporting others in their time of need, it feels more natural to ask for support when we need it.

Lack of Celebration This is a key part of leading from a place of resilience. It is the simplest to employ, yet often the hardest to do. All of us want to know that we are adding value, making a meaningful difference, and making progress. In the midst of our busy and distracted world, we have to take it upon ourselves to point out where we are doing all of those things because it is easily lost. Especially in a world where progress is no longer linear.

In the midst of the pandemic, I had a client whose revenue backslid quite a bit. The organization had fallen into a state of stress and frustration. We had stopped celebrating all together. Everything felt heavy and hard. First, as an executive team, we had to adjust what success looked like. In this season, what would be considered a win? It wasn’t the traditional metrics. We came back to some metrics around client satisfaction, employee engagement and retention, and modified growth numbers.

By setting those new goals and discussing the activities required to get there, we once again had things to celebrate. We had shifted our focus a bit, to rebuild the foundation of the organization, but we also had clarity once again on what we could celebrate. I encouraged the team to send one shoutout per week to a teammate and thank one person per day for something specific they did. We also had a weekly celebration board based on the metrics we put up. Within 3 weeks it felt like a totally different place. The energy was back and engagement, satisfaction and retention of employees and clients continued to climb.

It’s in the toughest times that we need to find things to celebrate in order to be resilient. They refuel us and keep us going. It may feel disingenuous at first, but if you keep at it, trust me it will shift.

Where in your life and leadership could you celebrate more to build the positive momentum you need to be more resilient?

Practice to try: A simple, daily reflection practice can change the game in this area on a personal level. Take 2-5 minutes at the end of each day to write down or mentally note all the ways you added value that day. Even simple things like smiling at a stranger, helping someone with something, or getting the laundry done for your family. We are all making positive contributions to the world and we have to bring them to our conscious awareness. It’s also important that if we are list-making people and we just never seem to get to our list of things (we may need to adjust some habits) and evaluate whether what was on the list was as important as what actually got done. Sometimes the things that “pop up,” the human things, are more important than the work to be done in the grand scheme. They take energy and effort and should be celebrated.

Also, if you aren’t already, get clear on what success looks like for you in this season. How do you know you’re winning? What can you measure to show progress?

Remember, leading from a place of resilience is an intentional choice and requires personal responsibility. It is a state of mind and being. We don’t have to get there we just have to choose to be there. If you could use more support on an individual, team or organizational level with resilience, reach out to us at The Restoration Project. We’d love to talk with you about what an engagement could look like!

Written by: Lindsay Leahy, Dream Builder at The Restoration Project

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