Don’t get off a train moving 100km an hour

“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient” – Dr. Steve Maraboli.

What a year it has been. In these last few months, many of my clients are making significant changes to how they do business. Pandemic responses have been normalised and volatility, turbulence, disruption, disasters, political and social unrest still permeate everyday interactions. It is easy to see that leaders would be challenged to function well, along with everyone else. How have you fared?

Doing this quarter’s health check with a senior leadership team, everyone I spoke with was exhausted. They were hanging out for the summer break. At 2.30pm in the afternoon, the leader I was talking to was yet to have lunch. Yes, every one of them was stretched. But I noticed something else. Each one:

  • Was proud of how their team had responded and stepped up under difficult circumstances
  • Had major achievements in difficult settings they had never encountered before
  • Was central in their supportive network of peers
  • Had built a collaborative culture within their team
  • Had rapidly built new and trusted relationships
  • Had shifted gears and reprioritised in response to the new government
  • Was a competent self-sufficient leader AND had accepted help from their manager
  • Had applied what they had learned earlier in the year

Many of these leaders talked about how stretched they were and how they were hoping they could hold it together until the holidays. That is a danger point.

Under extreme duress, leaders can forget the centrality of relationships in their interactions. Leader’s relationship message is as important as their content message.  Any stressed recipient interprets task focus as inhumanity when care and kindness is needed. In working relationships, “how are you going?” trumps any task, as urgent and important as it might be.

Former MBIE CEO, David Smol, called this capacity leaders’ generous disposition. Leaders’ generous disposition is only possible when they tend to their personal resilience first. Put your own oxygen mask on first remains true, only then can you assist others.  

The nature of personal resilience has dramatically changed. Hanging out for a break no longer works. Resilience in today’s context comes from mindset and daily practices. Leave and holiday breaks are for refreshment and relaxation. It is not possible to get off at a station if the train is going 100km an hour.

No one wants to take their first five days of the summer holiday ‘recovering’. How are you going to ensure you begin your summer break refreshed?

Here are some daily practices to build your resilience:

  • Begin your day listening to music that inspires you
  • Set a daily intention
  • Close your day noting 2 – 3 of your achievements
  • Read or watch something that makes you laugh
  • Keep yourself hydrated
  • Walk around the block
  • Let 3 people know how much you appreciate their work
  • Begin an intense work conversation with “how are you going?”
  • Talk with a friend
  • Eat something nutritious
  • Look people in the eye when you speak

What daily ‘oxygen mask’ refreshers work for you?

I asked a new leader today, if he were to look back at himself this time last year, what guidance would he have given himself? He said three things:

  1. Don’t be afraid to say no
  2. Trust your gut
  3. Make the decision

I’m with him. These three principles are gold. Don’t you love the simplicity of how he has articulated his guidance. No leadership programme will teach you this. Your experience will.

Diana Jones ©


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