Are you a tired leader, tired of leading tired people? If so, you are not alone.
The world we find ourselves in calls for a new set of leadership skills. These skills will determine which teams thrive and which languish. This skillset is resilience.
In my work with hundreds of Fortune 500 companies I have seen leaders, teams, and organizations struggling to manage the competing demands on their time, attention, and resources.
A few of the new challenges we are facing:
- A pandemic which led to over 40% of Americans reporting diminished mental health since the beginning of COVID. (Psychiatric News). Besides the personal toll, poor mental health is predicted to cost the global economy over sixteen trillion dollars by the year 2030.
- Burnout – Nearly 50% of employees and 53% of managers report that they’re burned out at work (Microsoft)
- Disengagement – 85% of global employees disengaged (including two out of three leaders) (Gallup)
- Workplace stress is causing U.S. businesses to lose up to $300 billion annually. (American Institute of Stress)
Leaders and teams are scrambling as they try to do more with less, stretch limited resources, address burnout, create a culture of inclusivity and engagement, and balance employee mental health in the process.
Fortunately, there are scientifically proven, brain-based strategies to help maximize well-being and performance in your personal and professional life. The key to it all is building resilience.
I have developed a framework to combat the exhaustion and overwhelming challenges leaders and their teams are facing, one that has helped thousands of people build resilience. It consists of three important activities to implement – developing a resilient mindset, skillset and the ability to reset. For them to be truly effective though, senior leaders must personally implement these strategies because you can’t promote what you don’t practice.
Leaders that practice these tools have teams with 70% higher performance and productivity as a result.
Your brain is a phenomenal organ, but it could care less if you are happy, enjoy your job, or have work/life balance. Your brain’s primary job is to be a threat detection machine, constantly scanning your environment for threats. Your brain cannot tell the difference between a real threat or a perceived threat. Three plus years of a global pandemic, supply chain shortages, a struggling economy and staff retention challenges have reinforced your brain’s negativity bias. Our brain is much more sensitive to negative experiences and encodes them immediately into our neural structure to protect us. It magnifies these experiences and repeated practice of any thought pattern or behavior reinforces it making this your default setting.
Leaders can help to offset this negativity bias by creating a culture of psychological safety, the number one predictor of high-performing teams. Just as your brain cannot tell the difference between a real or perceived threat, it also cannot tell the difference between real and perceived safety.
Senior leaders create a culture of safety by letting their leaders and teams know that it is okay to not be okay, sharing their own challenges and development opportunities, showing up vulnerably and authentically.
To combat stress, burnout, and disengagement, there are two options: decrease demands or increase resources. While it’s not always possible to decrease demands, there are several things you can do to increase resources.
Rather than focus on reducing stress, leaders can help their teams offset the stress response by putting the brain in a state of safety. Self-care, gratitude, social connection, volunteerism, humor, and mindfulness all signal safety. These practices can be integrated into daily work routines.
Start meetings with gratitude. In addition to being the number one predictor of well-being, simply looking for something for which to be grateful drops cortisol, the stress hormone by twenty-three percent. Sharing appreciation openly and repeatedly creates leaders and employees that are more motivated, energized, and productive. Sharing recognition, praise, and appreciation is a great way to create psychological safety, and it reduces the likelihood of team members leaving by seventy-four percent.
Helping someone else is the fastest path to enhanced well-being. Develop incentives for teams to support one another and the community. What gets measured gets managed. In addition to KPIs and strategic objectives, create a culture of well-being by modeling self-care and incorporating it into performance reviews.
Now that you have started to cultivate a resilient mindset and skill set, it is time to reset.
Your autonomic nervous system’s job is to regulate stress in the face of danger. When your sympathetic system (fight or flight) is activated, it sends a signal of danger to your brain shutting off the parasympathetic response (rest and digest). This is why you are more likely to gain weight and have gastrointestinal issues when under chronic stress. The good news is that your body doesn’t know the difference between bad stress (running from a tiger) or good stress (winning the lottery).
You can physically reset your nervous system into a relaxed state by integrating mindfulness into your daily routine. No, you do not have to sit in a full lotus, eat tofu, or find your Zen to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is simply brain training, restoring gray matter density damaged by chronic overproduction of cortisol, and training your attention. This creates a sense of control and safety for your brain and nervous system.
While it may seem overly simplistic, the fastest way to regulate your nervous system is to pay attention to what it’s doing. For example, name the emotion you feel right in this moment. This gets your brain out of a threat state and back into the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for higher level thinking. While it sounds easy, in a study of over 500,000 participants, only 35% could name the emotion they were feeling.
Next, where in your body do you feel that emotion? Is your stomach tight? Are you wearing your shoulders as earrings? This is mindfulness and brings your brain back to the present which creates a signal of safety. In addition, three deep, diaphragmatic breaths resets your nervous system.
What We Must Do In The Changing World of Work
The changing world of work requires that we change with it. What once worked to motivate, engage, attract, and retain great talent is no longer sufficient, and “the way we’ve always done things” can no longer be the way things are done.
To find and retain great talent, foster diversity and inclusion in new and different ways, and reshape the employee experience, we will need to up-skill, re-skill, and revamp the way we work.
As leaders scramble to create inclusive, engaging, collaborative environments, these are the skills that are mission critical.
It’s time to build a comprehensive resilience strategy, and it starts with your mindset, skill set, and the ability to reset.
Written by Anne Grady.
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