Great Leaders Have Resiliency

In the beginning of COVID-19, many leaders I work with were describing the pandemic as a race we would win and then get back to the pre-pandemic normal. As COVID lingered on, the description turned from a race into a marathon. And, as businesses were closed, opened, and then closed again, the marathon now appears to be an event with no end in sight. Even if the end is in sight with a vaccine, the finish line keeps moving farther away. 

Never in my career have I seen leaders stretched to their limits as much as I have with this pandemic. Leaders working twelve to fourteen hour days and becoming exhausted with Zoom or Teams fatigue. Leaders needing to make difficult decisions about layoffs. Entrepreneurs worried about losing their incredibly successful restaurant chain they have built their entire life and having to lay off thousands of employees. Leaders faced with unprecedented loan volume because of the low interest rates and they cannot find enough experienced employees who will take the open jobs. Leaders who are trying to run their team or company and, at the same time, be the teacher to their children at home. One CEO told me, “I can run a successful company, but I found out today that I am not successful at teaching or understanding fourth grade common core math.” Leaders not taking a vacation or time off because there are not a lot of places to safely travel. We are all operating without a pandemic playbook. Never before have leaders needed to dig deep for resiliency than they have navigated this ever-changing chaos.

Resilience is defined by merriam-webster as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. Or, in physics, resilience is the ability of an elastic material to absorb energy and release that energy as it springs back to its original shape. Our definition: Resilience is the ability to experience difficulties, or a setback, and quickly bounce forward. We didn’t say bounce back because bouncing back is going back to the way things were before the setback. With the pandemic, the world is never going to be the same. Great leaders will be the ones who have the ability to bounce forward and quickly adapt to a new world.

When we ask leaders, “How do you stay resilient when the world seems to be in chaos or crumbling around you?” The following are some of the tips they shared.

  1. Have belief and confidence in yourself. Gloria Gainer said it best… “I will survive.”  When you think about it, every problem that you have experienced in your life up to this point, you have either solved or survived. This one will be no different.
  2. Practice positive self-talk. Your words will become your thoughts. Your thoughts will become your beliefs. Your beliefs will control your actions. You can say to yourself either, “There is nothing I can do in this situation,” or, “If anyone can figure this out, I can.” What you say will determine whether you take action to improve the situation or concede defeat. Most people want to be around those who are able to verbalize a positive, can-do winning attitude.
  3. Communicate hope. Some of the leaders we coach have been through unprecedented stress the last few months. Some leaders have had days when they felt like giving up. I have told these leaders that. as their advisor, they can share those thoughts with me. But to their employees, they have to communicate hope with a positive vision of the future.
  4. Make a plan. Spend the time to make a plan of what needs to be done to improve your condition. Complaining does not work. Blaming others around you…even God or the Governor, will not work to change your situation. The only thing blaming will do is resolve you of any responsibility to improve your condition.
  5. Focus on what you can control. I cannot control whether the Governor is going to shut down our businesses again. But we can control our attitude about learning all the new skills we need to be successful working in a remote environment where groups are not allowed to meet.
  6. Take action. Peter Drucker, the late management guru once said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” In 1979, I was on a United States mountain climbing team that went to the Soviet Union to attempt the ascent of Mt. Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe. There were a ton of problems on this climb. The weather, the altitude and even death. But seven of seventeen on our team made it to the top and I walked away with a powerful life-long lesson. You cannot improve a bad situation without taking action. As tough as this climb was, I kept putting one foot in front of the other and it worked.
  7. Ask for help. Whatever your difficult situation, someone has been there before you and most likely has a solution that will help.
  8. Express gratitude and appreciation: This one is simple. People are motivated to help people who are appreciative and truly grateful. Even better, be so grateful that it brings you joy to help others less fortunate than you.
  9. Celebrate life. My father passed away at the age of 95. At 92, he told me, “I am so grateful that I lived long enough to enjoy the internet.” What an awesome attitude. If you really feel that today is that bad, just try missing it. What will you be saying when you are 95, “I am so glad I lived long enough to…”

Some people are described as pessimists. Others may describe how they view a bad situation as realists. Regardless of who wins the election, America is still the greatest place to live. Resiliency is not time bound. The country will continue to get business done and life will go on. As Robert Schuller, the pastor and founder of the Crystal Cathedral was so fond of saying, “Tough times never last, but tough people do.” When it comes to overcoming life’s obstacles, I am betting on the leaders who have resiliency.

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