A few months ago, we asked a range of leaders how they keep their resilience in challenging times. Their advice is now more relevant than ever.

They were very clear that a positive mindset helps — and that it can be learned. A number of the leaders we spoke with said they had taught themselves to interpret setbacks as temporary and changeable, where others with a more pessimistic outlook assumed life would always be hard and unrelenting. The optimism of the first group was not blind or unrealistic. They knew there was a hard road ahead — but they were confident that progress was possible.

These leaders all experimented with strategies to protect their resilience, and different approaches worked for different people. We noticed six groupings:

Protect your own wellbeing

The leaders we interviewed knew that others depended on them to stay resilient — which meant they had a duty to look after themselves. They accepted that time out allows batteries to recharge, so the brain becomes more effective. Regular exercise, good nutrition, and absorbing “non-work” activities all got a mention. A striking number talked about mindfulness, breathing techniques, meditation, spiritual reflection or yoga to regulate their emotions and calm their physical response to pressure.

Create the time and space to think things through

Most of these leaders insisted on carving out thinking time, whatever was happening around them. They needed to stand back and build a sense of perspective, then identify where rapid decisions were needed. They saw it as a sign of strength to test their thoughts on others, and were fine with delegating anything that others could do. If they had a perfectionist tendency, they forced themselves to spot when that was getting in the way.

Manage challenging relationships

At times of stress, we can be particularly sensitive to others’ behaviours, or the language used in an email or meeting. It’s important to notice our emotional response and name it. (Anger? frustration? feeling let down, patronised or ignored?). Might a firm response be needed, or is there a danger of over-reacting? Some leaders said they always assume that others want a way forward too, and don’t realise the impact they are making. It helps to show curiosity about what is driving the behaviour, and to seek a shared way forward.

Learn from the past and don’t dwell on what might have been

When things go wrong, some of our leaders knew they could take all the blame on themselves, and keep replaying the event in their heads. They had to remind themselves it was fruitless to ruminate. They needed to identify the lessons learned, and to focus on putting things back on track. If their confidence was knocked, they might need to note down all their strengths and achievements, and put the problem in perspective.

Encourage others to be alongside you and to validate you

It can be hard for high achievers to ask for help. They may feel it’s a sign of weakness. Our leaders noted that every successful individual has people alongside them or in their wider networks who are sources of trust and support. Building trusted allies is valuable in good times and essential in tough times. They talked too of the importance of family and friends who keep them grounded, and love and value them for who they are.

Recognise when you have choices

Resilience can involve a dogged determination to keep going, because events give you no choice. But there are always choices about how you perceive and react to those events.

What choices might you make about your mindset and actions, which would help you to stay resilient?

Next week we will share how our leaders support others around them to stay resilient. The full text of the Insight booklet, The Resilient Leader, can be found here



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Praesta Partners LLP

Praesta Partners LLP is a team of experienced senior executives offering bespoke executive coaching & consulting services to boards and professionals worldwide.