This is an article I wrote for Forbes in May of 2020. Posting a slightly edited version today since it seems more relevant than ever.
The workplace is supposed to be a place where people learn to create, overcome challenges and chart purposeful paths for themselves and others. Even though work has the potential to enhance personal growth and development, employees learn these aspirations are muted by deadlines and tasks. Much of this is because the workplace now requires constant change in technology, deliverables, cutbacks and consistent organization change. To add to the challenge, many offices have gone virtual with recent changes in the workplace.
Many business leaders are more concerned about whether the prospective leaders they are breeding have the resilience and agility to succeed in the perpetually changing business world. Being successful in today’s workplaces is not all due to capability or dedication. It has much to do with how well individuals adapt and thrive under enormous pressure and time constraints. In the past, managers would predict plans and adapt by devising actionable risk management plans. Today’s companies have to deal with uncertain, complex, often uncertain environments.
Building Resilience In Tomorrow’s Leaders
Lead by example
If you want aspiring leaders to be resilient, ensure the organization has resilient role models. Being able to work through these turbulent times and have the grit to face challenges head-on elicits respect, displays confidence and evokes pride from the subordinates. In simple terms, a leader’s action will help model the behavior they want to see in employees.
People have something known as “mirror neurons.” Mirror neurons are activated when we observe others taking action as if we are the ones performing it. These neurons are essential for learning through imitation. As such, if you want to hone and prepare resilient future leaders, managers must be resilient leader yourself.
Behaviors you can do to display resilience during these highly turbulent times include demonstrating calm, quickly accepting change, stating ambitious yet attainable goals, and helping other employees manage through stress. In many cases, this simple trait is a common reason business simulations within leadership development are utilized. It allows leading by example.
Encourage aspiring leaders to compartmentalize their mental load
It is understand that our brains receive over 10 million bits of information every second, yet only 50 can be effectively processed. Managing all the information received at once is what causes stress. Managers should encourage employees to learn how to compartmentalize challenges and information for more effective processing.
Deliberately managing various kinds of information can help you create enough time for every job. The American Psychological Association indicated in recent research that rapidly switching from one task to another can make it challenge to avoid distractions and can lead to reduced productivity by over 40%. Prioritizing is a vital skill that should be encouraged by managers. Again, this is another common reason corporate training managers utilize business simulations within leadership development. It forces participants to prioritize tasks as a team.
Offer social support
Another element that plays a key role in workplace resilience is social support. Leaders should help aspiring leaders understand that not all things be can be dealt with in isolation. Emerging leaders need to develop strong personal and professional networks, provide guidance and support during stressful periods, as well as offer mentorship and coaching opportunities. This support is an essential factor in any employee’s capacity to bounce back from a stressful experience.
Although top-level managers may encourage aspiring leaders to build networks that involve individuals who are higher in the company’s hierarchy, they should also advice employees to have contacts with people who are not from within the immediate network. These individuals can offer validation, and can be available when in-house networks are dealing with their own issues. Emerging leaders need to understand that one element of being resilient is being able to build and manage connections that can help develop as they continue to build trust with others.
Assist in developing mental agility
When preparing future leaders to take future leadership roles, companies need to help develop mental agility. This requires recognizing the situation you are managing is eliciting challenging results and shifting how you perceive it and staying positive. Developing cognitive flexibility allows emerging leaders to continue regardless of the circumstances. Changing the perception of every stressful experience helps respond to, instead of react too, a stressful situations.
The goal is not to deny that you are feeling challenged but rather to take a step back and observe the situation from a central position, so that you can neutralize perspectives and create ideas for moving forward. Having cognitive agility means that you can resolve a challenge without overly involving your emotions.
Create a sense of purpose and community
Today’s leaders are in a unique position to help develop a sense of purpose, cohesion and belonging among emerging leaders. Organizational belonging has many benefits for an enterprise going through very rapid change. The most resilient organizations are those that promote cohesion, share a common purpose and develop a deep relatable culture. These companies also exhibit superb communication while supporting and advocating. A leader who communicates value, celebrates successes and offers sincere feedback will clearly influence positive attitudes and instill heightened confidence while creating a team of resilient emerging leaders.
Our work worlds have drastically changed and there is certainly more change to come. Companies can help shape emerging leaders by demonstrating the skills they need to adapt. By leveraging the points mentioned in this article, managers can develop agile and resilient future leaders who can spar organizational productivity and performance. Many of the most successful global companies offer emerging leaders the opportunity to practice all this within business training simulations. Emerging leaders greatly appreciate the practice. If you tweak these elements into the culture and development opportunities of your company, you’ll be able to create a strong workforce that can withstand any change.