In the second part of our series, Keiron Pim explores how to look after yourself when the pressures of senior leadership seem to get greater every day.

If businesses have an obligation to ensure their employees aren’t worked beyond their limits, what should individuals be doing to develop their own personal resilience?

Keeping in optimum condition for work starts, not in the gym, but with a good night’s sleep.

According to Rob Stephenson, whose social enterprise, Inside Out, aims to change corporate culture by encouraging executives to discuss their mental wellbeing, sleep boosts our ability to make decisions and cope with stress. Too little sleep negatively affects this. Be disciplined about your bedtime and avoid screens and social media late at night, he advises, to help your body wind down naturally.

Mind and body building

In Australia, Andrew May of KPMG’s Performance Clinic is leading the charge to build a culture of resilience within the business. He identifies two further factors: physical and psychological fitness.

“The first piece of resilience is moving your body,” says May.

“Get 10,000 steps today. This is not for fitness, it’s for mitochondria – little powerhouse energy cells. That wakes the body up and gets the system working properly.”

On top of that, ensure you do at least three to four hours’ physical activity a week to increase VO2 max, your body’s maximum rate of oxygen consumption, “which also increases our ability to switch between stress and recovery. Movement gives you energy, and physical activity helps us regulate emotion.”

Food for thought and action

Good nutrition is also essential: ensure your sugar consumption is moderate, eat regular meals including protein, “which has dopamine to fuel the body”, and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, he says.

Secondly, there’s psychological fitness. Instead of being rigid and beholden to a ‘fixed mindset’, try to develop flexibility in your thinking.

“With thinking skills, 50 per cent is genetic, 40 per cent is trainable and 10 per cent is the lifestyle,” May believes. Training thinking skills to become more flexible helps leaders adapt to changing circumstances and thus become more resilient in trying times.

Business buy-in

Andrew May’s KPMG Australia colleague, Dr Jane Gunn, a Partner in the Management Consulting division in Canberra, notes that businesses in her part of the world are addressing the issue.

“From mining companies through to our public sector organisations, businesses are starting to see the value in ensuring that their leaders and their workforces are resilient,” she says.

She suggests doing so by building a ‘growth mindset’ whereby executives “practise approaching each situation from the perspective that it’s not going to be about their performance, but about how they can learn – that having all the answers is both not possible and not helpful in generating new ideas.

“Equally important to building resilience is building what we call ‘capacity’ to lead,” Gunn continues, “giving yourself recovery time so you can recharge and focus your energy. The science shows that being in a constant state of stress reduces our ability to engage in creative or lateral thinking and make effective decisions. Being low on energy can also lead to poor self-regulation and increased reactivity.

“We all know the feeling of being worn out and the ‘short fuse’ that creates for us. Our ability to be resilient, and to bounce back when something inevitably doesn’t work out as we planned, depends on having the reserves that help us to be reflective and learn from a failure, rather than reacting and blaming ourselves or others.”

Stress warning

The Potential Project’s Jacqueline Carter says there’s still much to be done at a corporate level.

“In our experience, too many organisations are not addressing the root causes of a lack of resilience: busy, overworked, overloaded minds. Although there are many great programmes to enhance resilience, too many of them provide information and guidance on what to do, but fall short on the ‘how?’ In our view, this requires training the mind to change how we process the difficulties we experience.”

She adds that the World Health Organisation has named stress the “health epidemic of the 21st century”. It is estimated to cost American businesses up to $300bn a year.

Helping each other

Jacqueline Carter’s London-based colleague, Louise Chester, adds: “We are seeing tangible evidence from our work with a large number of leading companies who are taking this issue very seriously and placing both focus and significant budget in this area.

“In London, for instance, we facilitate an ongoing peer-to-peer forum for leaders from 30 or so of our global clients to explore why resilience is a vital business imperative and a leadership responsibility and to confidentially share challenges and solutions.

“We are also currently working one-to-one with a number of CEOs and C-suite teams who acknowledge that the resilience of their organisation’s people is a vital contributor to the sustainable financial wellbeing of the organisations they lead. They realise that resilience starts with the leaders themselves, with their own behaviour and the culture they create.”

This is the second and final part of our series on resilience. You can read the first part here.

This article is from the latest ‘Well Working’ edition of the Odgers Berndtson magazine, OBSERVE.

Register to download your free copy

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