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Mark of dynamism

by K Shankar
Indian Management October 2020

Those with emotional resilience at the core of their management philosophy will emerge as resourceful leaders when the going gets tough. Good leaders that use emotional resilience consistently at the core of their management philosophy demonstrate adequate dynamism when crisis arrives.

The world has seen greater crisis than COVID-19 or other such distortions.
Apartheid is one of the worst nightmares mankind has experienced to date. Everything that is oppressive, demeaning, disdainful, and all that created inequality was loaded into the apartheid system. It was not like a passing pandemic that has hope in the form of a vaccine; it was not about a corporate crisis, or an economic disaster that could be dealt with through policy.

It was also not a systemic aberration that could have been addressed through talk and dialogue It was a perpetually open-ended problem that had no contours, it was an issue that flared with every attempt of protest. People that suffered it were living every single day without expecting much when the sun rose the next morning. One of the greatest natural leaders to have graced this planet was born in the vortex of apartheid, dealt with it at different levels, showed tenacity to handle it during stressful times, and finally managed to put an end to apartheid in a way that was acceptable and beneficial to all those that were impacted then and would have been impacted in the future. At the core of Nelson Mandela’s leadership was emotional resilience and empathy. He overwhelmingly demonstrated to the world what could be achieved through emotional resilience, staying united, caring for each other, and progressing towards a goal. It looked like a street battle when it all started but Mandela did a lot of things right to get a country out of its darkest times. He famously said, “Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” It was all about ‘hanging in there’, with emotional resilience as the only weapon to take on the rulers.

Very naturally, emotional intelligence found its way into the workplace many years ago. It changed the way leadership was conceived and transformed. It brought in a new management approach that captured and included the awareness of emotions in dealing with stress.

Emotional resilience further took it to another level. It conclusively proved the point that when adversity strikes, managers who can understand their own emotions and connect them with the emotions of their team in the fairest way can make better and impactful decisions for the group. The key to this is empathy and being able to connect with colleagues in a realistic, transparent, and meaningful way. It helped boost morale, inspire greater performance, and lay the groundwork for leading with consistency, accountability, flair, and integrity

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is testing leaders a lot like it tested Nelson Mandela. Leaders are subjected to dynamic issues of extreme duress and anxiety. This is the time to build emotional resilience of the highest order and use it as the platform tool to deal with issues. Building emotional resilience helps leaders make best use of their inner strengths to learn, reflect, rebound, and develop dynamic strategies that keeps the organisation in a mobile, yet tranquil space. Emotional resilience can be cultivated. It requires conviction, discipline, and the right approach.

There can be no failing moment. It will have to be built every step of the way. Good leaders that use emotional resilience consistently at the core of their management philosophy demonstrate adequate dynamism when crisis arrives.

Some pointers:
Personal wellness
Emotional resilience requires a holistic approach. It involves a high degree of self-care, which will allow leaders the required strength and resilience to deal with extraordinary situations and pontificate to dependents. Mental strength, ability to soak in pressure, and staying calm when things around us are out of place are the critical requirements of developing good emotional resilience. Leaders are expected to continuously rebalance themselves when crisis strikes. A good mind and body will allow leaders to bring in the desired tranquil mental state during crisis. It requires the leader to stay in shape through regular exercise, social connects, sports, meditation, and family support. Additionally, better hygiene habits like sleep and personal upkeep add to wellness.

Minimal technology in sleeping space and dedicated, yet limited, time for social media add to wellness. A few good laughs in a day provide a lot of psychological benefits.

Listen and trust
If empathy is the fountainhead of emotional resilience, trust is what drives that emotion. Listen more than speak to derive the best out of emotional resilience. Perspective is what matters. Emotional resilience is all about the perspective. When leaders conduct a 360-degree assessment of a situation, they look for the core issues, adversaries, the might of the situation, the team’s capability to deal with it, the team construct, etc. In these situations, every voice matters, and every word should be trusted first and verified subsequently. Calm in the war room must be maintained. When a leader listens and trusts, he becomes the only leader amongst a bunch. That is possible because of higher emotional resilience within. Nelson Mandela rose to become a marquee leader and a glorious champion of emotional resilience-led leadership primarily because of his ability to listen and trust. Every voice matters.

Reflecting upon self
During crises, a leader should continuously reflect on his decisions and actions. That is primarily because the window to correct an action is limited during such times. Reflection is an important part of emotional resilience.

Self-awareness and emotional resilience are two sides of the same coin. Good leaders have a great fix on their mental inventory, viz., thoughts, emotions, and actions through a prism of reality. When a leader reflects on his actions continuously, a fine blend of emotion and circumstantial awareness delivers progressive results. Emotionally resilient leaders understand the distinction between who they are at their core and the cause of a negative emotion.

Practising mindfulness regularly can assist a leader in finding critical levels of inner calm and strength to confront external challenges. The more they practise, the higher will be the chances of them staying in the moment by building strong emotional resilience.

Optimism, always
A leader’s first line of reaction should be empathy and the first line of expression must be optimism. Optimism is directly linked to resilience. Realistic and measured optimism is the façade of a strong and emotionally resilient leader. That allows him or her to handle the storm inside and decipher it meaningfully to the team. A good and positive outlook is critical while wrestling with inner uncertainties. It has tremendous tangible benefits, including better disposition, decision-making abilities, and maintaining calm. It further aids a leader’s health and quality of life to improve. While optimism is a feel-good factor and not a comprehensive solution, it can prompt a manager to lead with empathy and get into a solution-finding mode quite early. It will light up the workplace and create a strong runway for collective hope for the future.

Every individual matters
Building emotional capital is just as necessary for every individual in the team as it is for the leader. Leaders invest in every individual, directly or indirectly, to seek their views on happenings in their work domain, to ascertain challenges, and to identify coaching, counselling, and skilling needs. This is a dynamic process and a hygiene issue for leaders with strong emotional resilience. Crisis will demand every individual to imbibe change and react to the new normal. Some adapt to it easily, some struggle. Leaders should exercise patience and allow every single individual to adapt and succeed in the new and changed ecosystem.

This will help develop new methods, improve productivity, strengthen engagement, and build emotional resilience.

Always a team
Rallying with teams and achieving short- and medium-term objectives can be attained through emotional resilience. It is one thing to demand results of a team during a crisis and it is quite another for the leader to travel with the team and the rigours in pursuit of a goal. Developing emotional resilience requires surrounding ourselves with other resilient people in a team—those who have been there, react with empathy, exhibit optimism, are self aware, supportive, and share accountability. A good and like-minded team offers a leader the requisite space to grieve, express, and work through emotions. They connect the leader with ground realities and propose pragmatic implementable solutions, particularly in a crisis.

That helps the leader recalibrate the perspective and strategy to be adapted. Teams help leaders to listen, empathise, and encourage in the face of adversity.

Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the US, famously said, “The difference between a strong man and a weak one is that the former does not give up after a defeat.” That best captures emotional resilience.

K Shankar is CEO, Feedback Business Consulting.

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