This is the third and final in my series on leading through change. I’m helping leaders in a large multinational organization cope with their reactions to a major transformation and I thought it would be valuable to share my advice with you. I started in the first post talking about the importance of reflection. In the second, I shared a process you can use to reduce your resistance by reframing your thoughts. Today, we’ll talk about how you can invest in your resilience.
What is Resilience?
Resilience is the ability to bounce back after something aversive happens to you. The more resilient you are, the faster you get back to normal after an event interrupts your normal patterns. That event can be something major (your role is eliminated and you’re assigned to a new division, a new job, and a new boss), or something minor (you’re interrupted in the middle of a presentation).
Why is Resilience Important?
Think for a moment of all the ways you’re tested as you lead your team through change. First, you have to manage your own emotions and impulses and not pass them on. Next, you need significant energy to remain fully present at a time when you’re distracted by the 73 emails piled up in your inbox or the meeting with your boss in an hour. In addition to requiring energy, leading through change requires patience, something that can be in short supply while you’re dealing with your own reaction to change in addition to everyone else’s.
Other things you need to effectively lead through change include the self-control to avoid default or habitual behaviors, problem-solving skills to create a way forward, the strength to be vulnerable without turning into a mess, and the endurance to do it day after day, week after week during a major organizational change. Why is resilience important? Because it’s the source of your energy, patience, control, strength, and endurance.
Sources of Resistance
There are infinite sources of resilience that you can tap into, you just have to choose to invest in them. Let’s think about resilience in three different categories: things you can do to enhance your resilience over the long haul, things you can do on a daily or weekly basis, and things you can do in the moment to give yourself a little boost.
Over the long term, the activities that enhance your resilience are the ones that enhance your life overall. Strong, supportive relationships are the primary source of resilience. Surrounding yourself with people who care about you and listen to you makes you more resilient. If your relationships at home don’t provide that, seek out people at work or in your community that will offer encouragement and reassurance. In addition, make the long-term changes to improve your physical wellbeing and they will have positive impacts on your emotional wellbeing.
But I know, you’re in the midst of an organizational change and it’s not exactly the right moment to go searching for a new friend. Ok, let’s get more tactical.
If you’re just trying to make it to Friday, there are things you can do during the week to contribute to greater resilience.
Sleep: At least 35% of people routinely don’t get the required 7-hours of sleep. For half of those, the sleep deprivation reaches the level of chronic insomnia. When you get insufficient sleep, you are likely to experience greater irritability, anxiety, and risk taking and lesser empathy, creativity, optimism, and impulse control. Pretty much the antithesis of what you need when you’re leading change.
Prioritize sleep. That means committing to a series of good habits such as: 1) planning for the next day after dinner, so those thoughts aren’t swirling as you try to fall asleep; 2) eating and exercising as early as possible; and, 3) getting an hour away from screens before bed. There are more great strategies here.
Eat: It takes a lot of energy to run that pre-frontal cortex of your brain (where much of the action needs to happen as a manager). If you’re trying to survive on the muffins in the meeting room, you’re not going to have what you need to maintain your energy throughout a very long day. You need protein and if you don’t have time to stop for a proper lunch, keep some trail mix in your office. There are more tips on eating for resilience here. My favorite is the prescription for dark chocolate for dessert—done, done, and done!
Exercise: I don’t have to tell you this, do I? You know that exercise is important. It’s important for your stress levels, your immune system (in the middle of a massive organizational change is not when you want to be off sick), your hormonal system, and on and on. Get up, get moving. Pick one of your more difficult one-on-one conversations for the day and try doing a walk and talk (reducing eye contact can make those difficult conversations a little easier). If your exercise can be in nature, all the better.
Play: Another important component of your resilience plan for the week is time to play. Yes, that word sounds funny in the business context, but I’m sticking with it. I want you to play—to find activities you can do where you forget everything else and just escape in the joy of the moment. Play might literally being playing something (football, tennis, Cards Against Humanity) or it might be another form of creative outlet like my weekly tap dance class or these fantastic new Bob Ross painting classes popping up in local libraries.
Help: One last thing to add to your week if you want to increase your resilience. This one might seem counterintuitive. In the moment when you’re feeling spent, wishing someone would scoop you up and carry you to Friday, the secret just might be to go out and help someone else instead. Recent research suggests that being empathetic to others and helping them reframe their situation builds our own emotional regulation skills.
Think about your week. Have you invested enough time in your own resilience?
In the Moment
Sometimes you just need a little boost of resilience right in the middle of your day. That’s where micro-resilience habits come in. Bonnie St. John and Allen Haines wrote a great book called Micro-resilience. You can find it here. It’s full of great evidence-based tips and strategies for how to lift your flagging energy. Here are the main themes:
Refocus: Focus helps make us more resilient. Make a few small changes to take advantage of focus. First, be sure to make important decisions early in the day or after a break. Second, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a moment to re-prioritize. Third, create a checklist to carry your focus throughout your day and week. Just making these small adjustments to your focus will make you more resilient.
Reset: When you’re feeling the emotional hijack that comes when your resilience is waning, take a moment to hit the reset button. First, name the emotion you’re feeling. Naming it will make it less powerful. Second, take a deep breath by first exhaling as much as you can and then relaxing to let the air refill your lungs. Third, use sensory cues to evoke more positive emotions. Listen to a great song while walking between meetings. Find a lip balm in a great scent and apply it in a taxing moment. (When my energy is low when I’m facilitating, I switch to my brown Mr. Sketch marker and let the cinnamon scent pick me up.)
Refresh: In Micro-resilience, St. John and Haines pay significant attention to the value of drinking water to boosting your resilience. My younger daughter, Mac, is already in on this one. Her tag line is “hydrated is happy!” The research on the performance impact of even mild dehydration is alarming. Get yourself a water bottle that makes you want to drink. Drink it hot, cold, with lemon, through a straw, whatever encourages you to stay hydrated. And while you’re at it, throw in a low-carb snack like nuts, veggies, or jerky to fuel you.
Renew: The final source of micro-resilience is a quick reconnection to what matters most to you. When you know what you’re all about, a string around your wrist, an inspirational quote at your workspace, or the right picture on the lock screen of your phone can serve as a tiny reminder of the bigger picture.
Your resilience is a high priority business issue if you’re leading through change. With it, you’ll have the self-control to manage your own reactions, the energy to be fully present for your team, the patience to listen and empathize, the wherewithal to reject your defaults and make good decisions, and the stamina to keep it up for weeks or months. Investing in your resilience by sleeping, eating, exercising, playing, and helping isn’t indulgent, it’s mission critical.
From now on, instead of telling yourself, “It’s so busy at work right now, I can’t afford to go to bed (or exercise, or relax)!” you need to tell yourself, “It’s so busy at work right now, I can’t afford NOT to…!”