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Friday, January 15, 2021

C-Suite Advisory

How to lead yourself successfully through exponential change

If leading through exponential change feels relentless right now, it’s time to get in front of change fatigue, writes Ciara Lancaster.

Revelations of an absence of duty of care from organisations have surfaced.  A joint Australian HR Institute (AHRI) and The Wellbeing Lab study found that, “Over a third of workplaces were reported as continuing to provide no support for their employees wellbeing through the pandemic. In addition, only 37.6% of Australian workers reported that their manager often expresses care for them and only 32.1% of Australian workers reported feeling completely safe sharing their struggles at work”, shares Sarah McCann-Bartlett., CEO AHRI.

Organisations that have traditionally waxed lyrical about their utopian ‘people-first’ culture are now under the spotlight and expected to deliver on promises of wellbeing, learning and development and organisational care.

In conversations with leaders, many have confided that the magnitude of personal and professional disruption this year has left them feeling overloaded, overwhelmed and over it.  The pandemic has provided the potent mix of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.  The corporate arena has topped that up with business transformation that includes people, process and technological change as the directive to be more innovative. Is it any wonder that so many leaders are beginning to experience cognitive overload, change fatigue and burnout?

Yes, it is easy to point the finger and play the blame game.  However, if we are truly ‘all in this together’, then a shared accountability approach between organisations and leaders is the most sustainable way forward.

Leaders wanting to make the comeback better than the setback aren’t afraid to show a more a vulnerable side and invest in self-leadership.

The three foundations to starting your self-leadership journey are mental health, mood and mindset.

  1. Mental Health
    A mentally healthy work culture starts with you.  Address mental health concerns by reaching out to your GP for a referral to a mental health practitioner.  Alternatively, consider privately reviewing the mental health self-assessments tools and other resources on websites like Beyond Blue, Black Dog Institute and R U OK?

    To better manage stress in the workplace and regenerate, ensure you know how to recognise the burnout signals, where you are drowning, disengaged and discouraged.   Beyond that, is the new need to address emotional trauma.  This can be brought on by chronic pressure, fear of the future and job instability in the workplace.

    Neuroscience now confirms that emotional trauma impacts more than your pre-frontal cortex in the brain.  It hijacks your body.  For this reason, it is essential that you prioritise your nervous system and disarm your dis-ease nerves.  Dr. Stephen Porges’ ground-breaking work on the Polyvagal Theory provides foundational insights into the importance of body work (activating the vagus nerve) and psychological safety (prioritising safe and secure social engagement).  When you address your regenerative needs, only then will you be ready to commence courageous conversations and collaborative team activities that underpin a culture of innovation.

  2. Mood
    While curiosity is a key adaptive leadership trait, constantly questioning the truth is a fast track to anxiety or resistance.  Facing your reality is a critical first step.  Be warned, when you observe and truly notice your current reality, your mood may alter.  To manage your mood and disarm overwhelm, consider using the ‘RAIN’ acronym used by psychologist and self-compassion expert, Tara Brach.  To do so you need to recognise what is taking place around you, allow for what is to be, investigate the learnings of the situation without judgement, and nurture yourself with self-compassion.

    By far, the most challenging component for many leaders who are programmed to fix problems, is the concept of letting the situation be.  Letting be is about not challenging every new decision or proposed change.  Letting be is about letting go of your attachment to people, projects and problems that de-energise you.  Letting be is about sitting in the discomfort and leaning into self-compassion for past moments when you reacted rather than responded during these unprecedented times. The faster you come to terms with your reality, rather than resist, repress or ruminate over it, the faster you will rewire your brain and lay new neural paths.

  3. Mindset
    Your emotions influence your perception, choices and judgement.  The first rule of mindset work is to self-manage your emotional regulation.  Focus on integrating breath-work, break time and more meaningful moments into your day.

    Consider adopting new coping strategies.  Three that are work-place appropriate include   reframing, boundary-setting and more deliberate, quality human connections with your team and clients.

    Finally, focus all of your energy on resilience building.  Don’t allow past successes to define or limit your potential.  Do allow yourself to reflect on past failings and challenges with the intention of journaling out key learnings.  This will hold you in good stead to override any learned helplessness with learned resilience.

    Leaning in to change is about laying strong intrapersonal foundations.  Only then will you be ready to visualise and act upon more hopeful and optimistic outcomes.  Only then will you obliterate your negative inner critic.  Only then will you begin to feel change capable and resourceful.

If you want to optimally lead yourself through rapidly changing priorities, then in spite of everything, it’s critical that you show up for yourself in new ways.

Self-leadership may not appear as easy as you first thought.  Will it be worth it, absolutely!


Written by Ciara Lancaster.

Ciara Lancaster
Ciara Lancaster is a change fatigue and resilience specialist at Reimagine Change. Her focus is to help leaders at all levels to manage uncertainty, mitigate stress and modernise their mindset. She is also the author of the new book Reimagine Change: Escape change fatigue, build resilience and awaken your creative brilliance (Grammar Factory Pty. Ltd. August 16, 2020). Ciara Lancaster is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow her on LinkedIn.
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