Have a cup of concrete: six qualities shared by resilient business leaders

About the Author: Ashley Thomson
Ashley Thomson

Cup of concrete

For business owners, stress is a constant companion. As the head of the table of your own business you have dished yourself up an extra helping of responsibility. Knowing that the livelihood of both yourself and your employees depends on the success of your business is quite the heavy load.

There will be times when this idea could potentially overwhelm you. The smallest thing when added to an over-loaded plate can become that proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. That’s the moment when resilience, the one leadership skill that underpins all the rest, comes into its own.

What is resilience?
The word resilience is most often equated with the idea of bouncing back; being able to withstand and adapt to the events of your life. I mentor my Tenfold business coaching clients to focus on building resilience in three key areas:

  1. On a personal level – this allows you to choose your responses and your emotions in the same way you might choose your clothes for the day
  2. In their team members – before you became a leader in your business, your success was tied to your personal growth. Now your success depends on the personal growth of your employees
  3. In their business – here resilience is not just about how you come back from a crisis, but also how you evolve in response to changes in the business environment.

Personal resilience: are you resilient to the C O R E ?

Your Adversity Quotient (or AQ) is a measure of your resilience. It was developed in the late 1990s by Paul G. Stoltz, PhD. He broke down the response pattern to adversity into four ‘CORE’ areas:
Control – your perception of how much influence you have over what happens next
Ownership – the likelihood that you will act
Reach – your perception of the level and scope of the impact a situation may have (especially on other areas of your life)
Endurance – how long you believe that the situation will last

Your AQ works much like the more familiar Intelligence Quotient (IQ). The higher you score on each area, the more resilient you are thought to be (and also likely more successful).

While there is currently no tool widely available to determine your score yourself (outside of Dr Stoltz’s own books on the topic), the ideas behind it provide a useful framework to consider your own resilience. Next time you come up against adversity in your life, break down your response into the four CORE areas and try to determine which need development. Knowledge is power.

How can you build resilience?
Resilience often begins with how you frame situations in your own mind. Do you tend to view problems in your business as a ‘threat’ or a ‘challenge’? If you are the kind of leader who:

  • views mistakes as an education
  • sees a challenge as an opportunity
  • has an uncanny ability to improvise solutions

then you can stop reading and get back to work. See ya. But if you’re like the 99% rest of us (myself included), rest assured that resilience can be developed.

How does a leader achieve this level of Zen in the face of losing a key client or experiencing financial strain? Each of the following strengths can be built with practise; the more you ‘act’ resilient, the more resilient you will ‘become’. I mentor my coaching clients how to become resilient leader:

1. Accept reality
The moment when things go pear-shaped is not an opportune time to stick your head in the sand. If external trends point to a difficult trading period or one of your team members becomes seriously ill, you need to acknowledge to yourself and your team that things might be more difficult for a while. Reassure them (and yourself) that everything will be OK and that you are working on a plan.

2. Master stress and choose your mood
Stress is not a dirty word. There is good stress (the kind that makes you act on things) and bad stress (the kind that makes you want to eat an entire family-sized pizza… ask me how I know). Apart from personal tragedy and loss, most stress in your business will likely belong in the first category.

You need to be able to assess your stress and make sure that your response is appropriate and in proportion to the situation.

Choose it or lose it?
First up, you’ll need to pay very close attention to your stress response. There is a moment (right before you lose your mind) where you actively choose how to react to stress. You may not currently be aware of it, but it happens nonetheless. When you feel your anger, fear or heart-rate rising, get in the habit of using calming techniques to head-off the impending explosion.

Breathe your way to balance (sounds naff but really works. Ask Richard Branson or Jeff Bezos, both big advocates of this approach!)
Breathing is a great technique, because it is easy and requires no special equipment. It works by re-balancing the levels of oxygen and carbon-dioxide in the body. To get the full effect:

  • take a deep breath through your nose while counting to 3
  • hold the breath for a count of 10
  • breath out in a “whoosh” (like blowing out a candle)
  • repeat five times or until you feel yourself start to calm down. This kind of exercise also buys you time, giving you the opportunity to talk to yourself in a rational way. In this space you can better make the decision to ‘respond’ rather than ‘react’.

3. Be a mind-bender
Flexible thinking allows you to see situations from various perspectives, consider many ways of understanding it and arrive at multiple solutions. The more solutions we devise, the more choices we have. More choice equals an increased sense of control (remember that Control in your CORE response).

This kind of mental agility helps you move out of ‘problem mode’ and into ‘solution mode’. Pay attention to you’re the way you approach problem solving. Are you a rigid thinker with lots of routines and ‘go-to’ solutions? It may be that you can use this insight and consciously choose to become a little more flexible.

4. Form strong positive relationships
Your partner, family, friends, mentors, colleagues… these are the people that you hope you can count on in a crisis. Just knowing that someone’s ‘got your back’ can be the thing that gets you through the toughest of times. It is proof positive that you are doing something right, giving you confidence and courage. Invest time and effort in those key relationships and they’ll not just provide a safe place to land – they’ll be the trampoline that allows you to bounce back up again.

5. Can draw on your physical strength
Your mental coping levels are directly related to how strong you feel physically. If you are tired, sick or out of shape, you just won’t feel like you have the energy to deal with adversity. Make sure you pay special attention to your diet, exercise and general health so that you are in fighting form. Not everyone works in a physical job, trades businesses may be physical, but a marketer? Not so much… Some people may need to get some exercise outside of work.

6. Have a non-work passion that provides perspective and purpose
Think of that old adage about placing all your eggs in one basket. It is wise to have many things in life that contribute to your sense of purpose. If you pour everything that you are into just one area of your life, you risk too much of yourself if it collapses.

Make time for something that you are passionate about. It must be something outside of your work and your relationships. It’s not your skill level that matters, as long as it is totally absorbing. This will help you put all the other things in your life into perspective and can provide a healthy outlet when other things hit the skids.

It won’t happen overnight…
Resilient is something that you can plan to become. You are still human; you will have times where you can’t help but react. That’s OK. You don’t have to suddenly be impervious to upset. Simply aim to have the ability to choose your responses a little more often each day. As Melbourne business coaches we can tell you, that like all skills, this takes practice. Start small and let resilience become part of your self-concept over time.

In my next blog…
a look at how to build resilience in your team members and in your business more generally.

Image source: https://lovecreatecelebrate.com/diy-concrete-vases-from-tin-cans/