How Much Leadership Resilience Is Normal?

We all have our capacities, and we all have our limits. They change in response to our health, things that happen in our private lives and things that happen at work, along with general workplace environment, restrictions and demands. There are also influences like preferred self-image, where people who see themselves as, for example, highly competent and responsible are more likely to be motivated to acts of resilience that support that. Other leaders may be dedicated to the needs of others, perhaps on their team or perhaps those who are most affected by the team’s efforts. Amongst these variables, the question arises as to what is an ideal level of resilience for most leaders in most contexts?

The short answer is that we are not yet ready to publish or draw conclusions from our preliminary findings from surveys since the current format has been used. However, they have been some notable trends that we can share. For the enablers they include:

  • Personal health/diet/sleeping and well-being is not generally seen as a significant detractor from capacity for stamina, reasoning, emotional control and neurobiological function or recovery. In comparison to perceptions, most leaders surveyed score a little higher than they think for health and lifestyle.
  • Self-management is generally over-rated by participants. Most score in the medium to low range range with little attention paid to monitoring and influencing their emotional/intuitive and rational/cognitive balance. Feelings are rarely questioned, potentially as part of needing to feel right to be able to act decisively and to show strength – distinctions between internal processing and behaviour are no more strategic than for other roles. Skills that enhance learning from experiences are also not strong, condemning many to slow learning, if not stagnancy, in how they cope with adversity.
  • Engaging skills vary mostly between medium to good, but are generally lower than thought of by many. This leaves many highly in touch with their own needs and worries, but not as much in tune with the needs, worries and energy of others. Engaging is a prerequisite to collaboration, so deficits here undermine the likely effectiveness of collaborative habits.
  • Coherence, through congruence in basic need level and satisfaction, is mostly good, with leaders generally happy with workplace interactions except for front line supervisors who at times prefer a little less (where subordinates often would like more). Identity is generally fulfilled (but not as much for subordinates), while some leaders were happy with their empowerment level and some would like a little more control and autonomy. The biggest gap in basic needs, as it is for employees generally, is in wanting more task challenge, variety, enjoyment and interest. This suggests that challenges and sustained effort, where they don’t simply relate to work pace, might be stimulating and energising within themselves for the leader and the team – this is also consistent with the wish for people to use and develop their best skills as a naturally rewarding motivator of effort and positivity. Data around consistency (relating to gut feeling, values, ethics and so on) is not definitive one way or another statistically, although our experience is that there are often shortfalls in confidence and commitment to hard decisions and conversations, which is to be expected.

Domains of leadership resilience typically score lower than enablers, suggesting that many leaders already have some of the foundations for improved resilience, but haven’t habitualised how they use them. Interestingly, self-perceptions often don’t correlate to the weighted sum of individual elements. This suggests that they haven’t been trained in leadership resilience so are simply doing their best, likely repeating the sorts of things that have coped or felt right in the past, whether or not they were objectively ideal, or even good, for personal, team and task outcomes. Some noted patterns include:

  • Collaboration is often much lower than thought, with many leaders withdrawing into solo decision-making and emotional coping habits under pressure. This may be part of minimising uncertainty by simplifying, even if the objectively-best decisions aren’t made, or it might also be part of what leaders feel being a leader is about – being the strong one who makes decisions. Underneath that it is a part of a primal defense mechanism and can be, at worst, withdrawal symptomatic of anxiety or depression.
  • Vision is often compromised by modest aspirations and poor communication of them. This leaves the team with a focus on getting by now rather than seeing today’s struggles as part of a worthwhile and inspirational bigger picture. This can easily be the difference between avoidance, loss-averse responses and approach, positive and gain-oriented ones. This is one of the biggest areas for potential improvement and is seen by us as “low-hanging-fruit” in leadership resilience development.
  • Tenacity often scores quite reasonably, indicating that leadership resilience is often not impaired greatly by a lack of effort or commitment. Again, this is an easily-improved area through influencing the motivation system.
  • Reasoning is typically compromised by poor self-awareness and emotional management. It is, however, the only domain that has ever seen 100% scores – and did so twice. In both cases it was by individuals who were highly trained in emotional awareness and management, and who understood how to access their brain’s capacity for complex problem-solving in times of high stress and even danger. Clearly, enhanced reasoning for leadership resilience is a teachable skill.
  • Efficacy is typically lower than people estimate of themselves, with an expression of a belief that they hold themselves accountable for their own outcomes but then identifying other factors that limit their ability to do so. The expected pattern of an often converse relationship between collaboration (team reliance) and efficacy (self-reliance) has been apparent but not strongly enough to be considered a rule.

From here

The most consistent and biggest overall trends have been around low self-awareness and a tendency to withdraw into oneself rather than engage with others under pressure. This suggests an avoidance-dominant response schema, in turn indicating a perspective that is greater in loss-avoidance than in gain-generation, and therefore oriented more toward physical effort than  creative problem-solving. With awareness, training and willingness to replace old, unhelpful habits with new, more effective ones, there appears to be a lot of room for improvement in resilience, performance and well-being for many people in roles of responsibility, autonomy and leadership.

If you’d like to learn about how to improve the capacity and develop the habits for resilience in your leadership team, talk to us about our exclusive neurobiologically-grounded Leadership Resilience Training modules and Leadership Resilience Coaching.