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Resilience as a Leader in Times of Turmoil

Jun 15, 2020 | 11m

Gain Actionable Insights Into:

  • Discovering your purpose in life so that you have an anchor when you’re feeling low
  • Investing in relationships that matter because they will ultimately be your support system
  • Embracing challenges as an opportunity to learn, grow, and build mental resilience


Understand Your Mission

As I write this, we are in the midst of COVID-19 and the global chaos this has caused. We’ve been forced to adjust to a new normal for an indefinite amount of time, and none of it is familiar or easy. But the beauty of humanity is our ability to adapt to our ever-changing situations and make the most of our circumstances. I have spent a lot of time over the years reflecting on resilience in leadership, and while resilience is something we should always strive for, it's in times like this that it’s more important than ever.

Regardless of ethnicity, social status, or achievements, society has been under increasing pressure to perform and attain a certain level of success. You might feel like a hamster on a wheel, always running but never really getting where you hope to be. Along the way, many things could throw you off balance, but what matters is how you choose to handle them.

A CEO’s average tenure is about two years, and they have stressful and high-pressure jobs. The average tenure of a sales manager is 19 months. If you are young and just starting out your career, burnout is a real thing, and you need to develop ways to deal with stress and sustain yourself throughout fast-paced seasons in the long term.

While the human body isn’t designed to work endlessly, the rapid advancement of society has made many of us feel like we should keep running the race to win first place. Anything short of that is considered a failure. In businesses, the options you have to expand geographically has increased by several folds. While this can lead to fantastic opportunities, it has also caused more stress and confusion.

So, how can we embrace this fast-paced society and make the most of our circumstances without exhausting ourselves? The first step is to establish and understand your vision statement or mission. If you keep running but don’t know what you're running towards or why you're running in the first place, you'll eventually burn out, with no motivation to persevere.

Every business expects its employees to understand the vision statement and mission, and everything you do must be in line with what your company values. As you make decisions within your role, you're careful to consider what your company would approve of. The same is true for your life.

In a world where you're bombarded by consumerism and competition, it’s important to have a personal mission statement. When you know your purpose in life and the things or people that matter most to you, you'll be better equipped to make decisions that can help you achieve your ultimate goals.

Pandemic or no pandemic - all leaders should be continually working on their resilience.

Create Time to Unwind and Reflect

You can only become more self aware if you take the time to reflect. Good leaders prioritise frequent reflection because it allows them to step back and consider what they have done well and where they can improve. Research suggests that leaders who take the time to do this are more efficient, more positive, and more apt to learn.

Depending on your personality and preferences, reflection can take on many different forms. For some, it may be going out for a walk or a run in nature, while others may prefer enjoying a cup of coffee in a cafe and penning down their thoughts and challenges from the past week. Regardless of what method you use, do something that you enjoy so that your mind can be refreshed and recharged.

For me, I like to free-write in my journal three times a week for at least thirty minutes. I begin by writing facts of everything that happened that day, but as I write, I quickly begin to make sense of everything that has been going on. My journals have helped me look back and notice patterns of things that may have bothered me on several occasions and highlighted areas that I need to work on.

Recently, my journal entries revealed that I was very stressed whenever I felt forced to react impulsively in certain situations. I would become overly concerned about what I should have done or said or how I should have tackled a situation. I then realised that when I reacted impulsively, I did not take the time to think and as a result, a lot of unconscious biases blinded my judgment.

Because I had recorded these experiences in my journal, I was then able to notice a pattern that I needed to deal with. I learned that in order for me to make a decision based on sound judgment, I had to take the time to digest information and find a productive way to respond that was not defensive or detrimental to what I was trying to achieve.

Not all of us are natural-born writers, so journaling may not be the first thing that comes to your mind as a relaxing activity. But you will be surprised how much you can learn about yourself and the world around you if you simply start by sitting down with a pen and paper and writing the facts about your day. The more you write, the more you will realise how easy it is to process your emotions through journaling.

We can’t avoid stressful situations in our lives. The only thing we can control is how we feel, react, and choose to deal with the situation. Mental resilience is a muscle that you have to exercise and strengthen. It does not come naturally to us. But there is hope, because the more you exercise this muscle, the better you'll become at overcoming stressful situations.

Reflect on a stressful situation or season of your life. Start by stating exactly how you're feeling, what happened, what you could control, what you couldn’t, and what you could’ve done better. Try to write this down or take a mental note of this as if you're an outsider reporting your experience. It is important to be very mindful during this process so that you can dissect it appropriately.

I had to apply this method of reflection when I was in business school. I was offered a scholarship to be part of the 'Develop India' programme, which allowed me to work for a non-profit organisation for a year while the business school covered my student loan. I was grateful for the gesture, but within two months, I realised that I was not suitable for this role, and I was not making an impact.

I was in a dilemma because the business school and the organisation had invested time and resources in me, but I was leaving them. When I took the time to think through my options, I realised that I could offer to train the next person they hire and slowly pay back the business school however I was able. Because I had a framework to dissect my situation, I was able to get perspective on what I could influence and make the most of my situation.

I make it a point to view every stressful situation as an opportunity to build resilience. When you shift your mindset to recognise purpose in pain, it helps you step outside of the stress and approach it with a more positive attitude. This also places you in control of your emotions because you do not depend on anyone or what they think of you. Instead, you evaluate yourself based on the criteria you set for yourself within the framework of your mission, strengths, and weaknesses.

Sports scientists advise athletes to treat every ball as if it is a different ball and every shot as a different shot. If something goes wrong in one moment, you should compartmentalise it into one moment and move on to the next situation without allowing the impact of the first moment to affect your judgment and subsequent actions. This prevents the snowball effect of allowing the negative emotions from one meeting affect your attitude and mindset in the next.

Know Your Strengths

You can’t expect to wake up one day with a mission statement at the forefront of your mind. It takes time and many self-awareness exercises to understand who you are now and where you want to be in the future. This will give you a clear sense of your strengths, which will ultimately serve as your anchor when things don’t go your way.

On the field and on the job, it makes sense to put your strengths to use when the chips are down. When things are going well, you'll have time and the bandwidth to work on new areas, build new strengths and get better at what you think you aren't good at. In a high-stress situation, if your strength is analysis, stick to that. Let someone else solve other things. If you're good at execution, let someone else plan.

While you should also consider which areas you want to improve in, accept that you can’t be good at everything. You're limited by time, energy, and resources. Prioritise the areas that are most vital to helping you achieve your ultimate goal, then make time in your schedule to actively work on that particular skill.

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Dhruv Vohra

Director, Digital Natives and Technology




Leadership Philosophy