Tight deadlines. Increasing demands. Rising expectations. Success can be great, but it’s not without stress.
When the pressure is on, it’s easy to feel like you’re falling behind or not accomplishing enough. Minor setbacks may crush your motivation. Criticism can leave you reeling for days.
If you want to perform at high levels, then you must be able to bounce back from failure and all the ups-and-downs that leadership entails. In other words, you must learn how to become emotionally resilient.
Resilience, psychologically speaking, is the ability to adapt to adversity or significant stress. When faced with difficulty, resilient people recover more quickly. They view setbacks as temporary and move forward despite uncertainty. Research finds that resilient people excel in problem solving, positive communication, emotional intelligence, and emotion regulation. They tend to be hopeful and optimistic, and have higher levels of self-esteem.
Resilience isn’t a magical quality that’s bestowed upon a strong few. Everyone is equipped with some degree of resilience, and you can intentionally deepen your capacity to bounce back. By cultivating key behaviors and habits, you can boost your ability to remain calm during a crisis.
You can’t prevent setbacks from happening, but you can change your response to them. Instead of viewing stress as a sign of failure or as a threat, you can choose to look for the challenge within it or the lesson to be learned. By doing so, you’re cultivating what psychologist Martin Seligman calls an optimistic explanatory style, or the ability to perceive setbacks as temporary and solvable. Instead of asking yourself, “Why is this happening,” ask “What can be done?” or “What am I meant to learn from this?” Finding meaning within chaos is a core component of resilient leadership.
Some people respond to stress with angry outbursts while others withdraw and avoid the situation. Neither is a constructive response. Highly self-aware, resilient people first take the time to understand what they’re feeling, even if it’s uncomfortable. Allow yourself to process difficult emotions like frustration, anger, and sadness in appropriate ways. I have my coaching clients do a release-writing technique. It helps them clarify what they’re feeling so they can think more clear-headedly about what to do next. To manage your emotions effectively, you must learn to express yourself clearly, assertively, and with empathy for others.
Resilient people take action even when the outcomes are unclear. It can be nerve-wracking to make decisions amidst uncertainty, so focus on progress over perfection. Track your wins and celebrate your achievements, however small. Doing so helps you gain confidence you can lean on when the going gets tough, and affords you a sense of momentum that can carry you forward through slumps.
Knowing when to pull back and replenish is equally important. Resilience requires energy, so make sure you’re refueling with regularly-scheduled self-care activities. Exercising, eating right, sleeping well, and creating time for personal development are a few ways to energize yourself. Don’t forget to also focus on mental and emotional well-being. When you’re well-rested, well-fed, and psychologically secure, you’ll be able to greet the challenges in front of you with steadiness.
Having an ample supply of positive, trusting relationships within the workplace and outside of it is a cornerstone of resilience. When you’re going through a hard time, reach out to mentors, coaches, and colleagues for guidance. Enlist the support of your team instead of trying to carry the weight on your own. Reliable and consistent social support is related to better psychological health, higher motivation, and a lower stress response. In order to make sure you have people to lean on, invest in relationship-building long before you need it.
Adversity is unavoidable in leadership. No matter what your role, you’re going to face stressful situations. Rather than letting difficulties get to you, use these strategies to increase your capacity to rise above and respond to stress without long-term, negative consequences. Then you can get back to doing what you do best: delivering results.
Melody Wilding is a high performance coach and professor of human behavior at Hunter College.