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Top 10 tips on Awareness from the Focus on Resilient Leadership workshops

Advice from leaders, for leaders at a time of uncertainty

25 years ago we set out to understand what it took for someone to lead themselves and others through uncertainty, change and even crisis. Not the systems, infrastructure or processes needed, but rather the ‘human element’; those things that, if present would mean people choose to follow you through really difficult times. The resulting four Resilient leaders Elements have been helping leaders navigate an increasingly volatile and fast-changing world ever since. Whilst unprecedented, Covid-19 is just the latest in a long line of man-made and natural disasters that leaders have had to deal with since we first identified the Resilient Leaders Elements all those years ago.

At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic we started a ‘Focus on Resilient leadership’ session that created a forum for advice centred around the RLE. This blog series shares the brilliant advice that came from these sessions. Starting with ‘Awareness’, we take each Element in turn to summarise what has helped people lead themselves and others at this time.

A Marathon not a Sprint: Awareness and how it helps us lead in uncertainty

Let’s start by imagining the perfect resilient leader, whose success comes partly from their heightened awareness of themselves, the others around them and the environment they are operating in. They have confidence in who they are, always working at their best, irrespective of the changing levels of urgency and uncertainty surrounding them. They deeply understand the people they work with so that those people too are highly productive and motivated. This resilient leader encourages and engages with the diversity around them and actively promotes difference, knowing it leads to far more robust decision making. They ensure that the systems and processes in place help people to achieve their goals and do not hesitate to unblock those things that get in the way of individual, team and organisational success.

This description is the context for the advice that came from our Focus on Resilient Leadership session. Those leaders attending shared leadership activity and ways of being that would help all of us move closer to the aspiration of that ‘perfect’ resilient leader, specifically in the Element of Awareness.

1. Know what triggers you, those things that take you from pressure (where we are motivated, positive and want to jump out of bed in the morning) and stress (where we become demotivated, overwhelmed, ultimately ill and want to hide under the duvet). Notice those things happening and really importantly, make sure that people around you know what to look out for and what you need to rebalance when it happens.

2. At times of heightened uncertainty, focus on doing your best, ‘great’ is not necessary at those times. In fact, striving for perfection means that you will probably not be moving at a pace that keeps up with the rapidly changing environment.

3. Look after yourself first and foremost. Resilient Leaders Consultant, Steven Garrod shared a conversation he had recently with a very experienced physiotherapist who is supporting athletes competing at a national level. The physio reported that his patients have responded far better to treatment throughout the lockdown period than is usually the case and is convinced that it is because they have been forced to rest when they would usually be rushing back to training too quickly. Covid-19 is demanding the kind of self-care, empathy and pacing required of leaders at times of war. This is a marathon not a sprint and you are role modelling for others around you. There is nothing noble, pragmatic or inspiring about burning out so that you and those around you are not at your best when the situation demands that of you. Help yourself and others by setting boundaries around your work so that your brain and body can rest, re-energise and renew.

4. Actively create pause points in your day to step back and look for opportunity in the uncertainty around you. All crisis, change and uncertainty, no matter how unsettling or upsetting also bring opportunity. Encourage others to help you look out for these and give yourself some time to think differently to the crowd, to seize the opportunities even if it means you have to change direction.

5. Dial up your empathetic communication. Set the tone by encouraging people (especially those in managerial positions) to go above and beyond in terms of connecting with and supporting each other just for the sake of it. Acknowledge how people are feeling and create space for them to speak whilst you actively listen. If people feel included and valued by you, they are far more likely to follow at those times when you don’t have time to explain and have to be more directive.

6. Health and physical well-being are intimately related to people’s perceived control and influence over things happening around them. Give people every opportunity to have influence and control over the situation. It will have a positive impact on mental health and well-being, help people feel more competent and ensure you delegate so that responsibility and accountability is shared. Refer to Michael Marmot ‘The Status Syndrome’

7. It’s not always the person with ‘boss’ in their job title that should take the lead. Take a leaf out of the military leadership book where shared and devolved leadership is encouraged. The concept of ‘Supported and Supporting’ purports that everyone has the potential and ability to lead as long as they have the awareness, confidence and the encouragement to step into a supported role when the situation requires it. At that point the rest of us move into supporting roles, providing them with everything they need to lead through that particular challenge. When the situation changes they step back and someone better suited to lead takes over. Covid-19 has seen many examples of this. The unprecedented situation has forced those people in roles that would normally be classed as ‘supporting’, such as refuse collection, teaching, delivery services and health care to become front line and ‘supported’. We have all, even if your job description is Prime Minister, had to play a supporting role in order to keep them leading in order that society stays afloat.

8. Linked to the previous point and the need to sustain energy levels in yourself and others, keep a look out for people’s fatigue levels. Create the space for people to rest and decompress and at the same time encourage those with energy to step up and lead.

9. Adapt your communication to meet people where they are. Try putting yourself in their place, what are they thinking or feeling? If you were them what would you need? Elizabeth Kunbler-Ross’s work on the grief cycle and human reactions to shocking news can really help us here. Early on in the cycle people need engagement and empathy to help them cope, later on positive messages of reinforcement will be more appropriate. Without doubt, your communication will be far more effective if you put some forethought and empathy into it first.

10. Look out for shifts in the environment and focus on those things that really matter. Ask: What must we now stop doing because of how things are changing? Act on the answers with strong and assertive leadership; people need role models and as much certainty as possible in difficult times.

If you’d like to know your level of awareness, try our free Resilient Leaders Elements LITE – insert link

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