Build Resilience Through Openness
Recently I was coaching a mid-level leader in a large, multinational company. His complaint was,
“Change keeps happening to us. I keep getting directives from above on the next change. The people below me are freaking out and I find myself continually bailing water trying to cover all the bases and protect them from the chaos. What should I do?”
This person is not alone. Countless leaders are stuck in this seemingly impossible place, trying to fulfill their accountabilities to upper management while trying to help their employees keep up with a rapidly changing landscape. The need for resilience is at an all time high.
What’s the solution? There’s no magic bullet, but there is a critical piece of the puzzle that most leaders miss. This missing piece is a foundational key to resilience.
Good Intentions. Unintended Consequences
Most leaders are promoted because they are dependable and responsible problem-solvers. They get the job done, no matter what. So when stress and crisis hit, they do what they’ve always done; go to work. This is revealed in my client’s statement, “I find myself continually bailing water trying to cover all the bases and protect them from the chaos.”
While the intentions are noble, this behavior is unproductive and unhealthy in the long run. These leaders are missing the boat. The unintended consequences of doing all the work trying to protect people are:
- It sends the message that you don’t trust them to handle the tough stuff
- It reinforces an Us vs. Them mentality
- It puts an unnecessary work burden on the leader
- It avoids the most important issue – emotional struggles
Openness and Resilience
When people are going through difficult and stressful times, it’s natural to have emotional responses. Fear, anxiety, anger, sadness are all normal emotions. Feeling and expressing these with each other is positive and healthy. Many leaders have been trained to believe that expressing these emotions means they are weak or lack courage, or somehow can’t handle their job. So they avoid it in themselves, don’t encourage it in their employees, and keep them at a distance by just working harder. Perhaps the worry is that emotions are something they can’t fix, so it’s better just stay away from them.
The reality is that when people are struggling emotionally, they want to know they aren’t alone. They want to know their feelings and experience are valid, and that somebody cares.
Getting open with your employees is the single most powerful thing you can do to build resilience. Because when people realize they aren’t alone, they instantly have more energy and hope.
How Leaders Can Open Up
- Ask people how they are feeling about what’s going on.
- Don’t judge their feelings or take sides. Just listen and let them know it’s OK and natural to feel that way.
- Recognize that how we feel, and how we act on those feelings are two different things. Affirming someone’s feelings doesn’t mean you can’t also focus on behavior, strategy and tactical responses.
- Share your own feelings. You are probably anxious, afraid as well. That’s OK. When you open up, it shows you’re human, and gives others permission to do the same. It takes a lot of courage to share your feelings.
- The old adage has never been more true; “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
- Get more tips on how to be open.
Struggling WITH Builds Resilience
In my example above, this leader was certainly struggling, but doing so in the wrong way. Struggling for others doesn’t really protect them; it actually undermines capability. The real answer is to struggle with others. Engage them in the process. Ask for their help. Emphasize that getting through tough stuff is a team effort.
Did you know that the Latin root of the word Compassion means “to suffer with?”
Compassion doesn’t mean being a buffer against all things negative or stressful. It means walking alongside your people, experiencing the struggle together, and engaging them in the process. Together, your burdens will seem lighter, and together you have a much better chance to find solutions in the midst of chaos. That’s resilience.