It’s been a long winter. Finally, flurries of daffodils have poked out from under the surface after a sunny weekend. They rise… lonely, exposed, hopeful. And yet in the distance, I can see clouds forming, a northerly wind chills my skin and the BBC weather app tells me a frost is coming on Wednesday.
Why am I talking about the weather?
I find myself reflecting on resilience. For leaders everywhere today, we are in a fundamentally unstable context. The frosts keep coming. The seasons have lost their rhythm. Change is cosmic and constant – throughout the very fabric of our culture, countries and globe. There is a deep discomfort and anxiety to navigate as a result – not only personally, but for the teams we are responsible for, and of course, the many others who we impact through what we do. Like our floral friends, it can feel lonely and exposed.
The question remains as to how we will take on these stressors. How will we keep our hope? Having worked with thousands of leaders over the last fifteen years, I’ve seen three traits of leaders who resiliently navigate stress, ambiguity and change.
We all have our own unique patterns of dealing with stress, which can be viewed through many lenses. Choosing just one - let’s pick the Myers-Briggs typology – which highlights our unique blend of preferences, which in turn shape how we might act when following what comes naturally to us. This tool shows a preference for introversion (energy from internal reflection and thoughts) vs. extraversion (energy from action and external processing) - which may influence our bias towards hiding or expressing stress. We may not be able to see the wood for the trees – focused on details and missing the big picture (sensing), or perhaps not spot the trees for the wood – oversimplifying and generalising (intuition). We may become consumed by logic (thinking) or flooded by emotions and values (feelings) when a balance is needed. We may move too quickly to decisions (judging) or procrastinate (perceiving). And sometimes, at our most stretched, we’ll throw out our normal preferences entirely and operate from the least developed part of us.
Of course, layered across all these things – helpfully or not - our own backgrounds and biases, our physiology and psychology, our systems and schemas are always shaping us.
How about you…
How might you describe how you show up when stressed?
What are some of the feelings, thoughts and behaviours you experience?
And the big question – do you actually notice it quick enough to do anything about it?
Great leaders are aware. Starting with themselves, they notice even the small physiological clues that tell them that they are experiencing stress. Tense shoulders. Light breathing. Their tone. They are able to slow down their feelings and thoughts before believing them and reacting to them.
Often this comes as a practice of daily reflection, taking space to respond rather than react.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Victor Frankl
The practice of awareness is about spotting when there has been a stimulus of stress… and taking the space to choose your response before it chooses you.
Secondly, I have observed that resilient leaders are great learners. They didn’t leave their curiosity in the classroom.
Curiosity is a great tool for de-escalation in stressful situations. Instead of ‘how dare they do that’, applying some curiosity – about yourself and others (and indeed the wider world) - can completely shift your state.
The focus becomes much more neutral and reflective. You become the observer, noticing and challenging the stories you tell yourself.
…‘I wonder why they did that’?…
…Did they even do ‘it’?...
…‘Why does ‘it’ matter?’…
…‘What bias in me might have caused that reaction’?...
The simplest way to apply this is TED questions: ‘Tell me more’, ‘Explain to me’, ‘Describe to me’... These neutral questions create an environment of response rather than reaction. They create a freer space between you and the stressor stimulus to find a path forward together.
Finally, great leaders operate with clear intentions. They know what they are here for. They are clear and aligned on their values. They have defined their desired impact and operate from that space.
Pulling on Simon Sinek’s fantastic work – knowing our ‘why’ unlocks our how and what. When we return to our sense of intention, or purpose, as a leader, it can shape our behaviours and therefore our impact. Remembering this – whether that is to be in service of others, of a wider cause or beyond, can refine our focus for every meeting we have, which leads to a more powerful impact and far greater resilience to take on the daily stressors we encounter.
Returning to our daffodils… the frosts will return, and yet they rise, resilient and hopeful for not just survival but for spring to come again.
Will you? Choose to build your awareness, curiosity and intention as a leader – and find you and your team navigating stress with more resilience and hope.
Naomi Partridge is a leadership coach, facilitator and social impact entrepreneur. She works with leaders across all walks of life to step into more impactful, resourceful and purposeful leadership.
You can explore more about the ideas and tools expressed in this blog via our New to Partnership Programme.