Being a resilient leader in the wake of COVID-19

Written by MEC Mining’s Technical Services Manager, Erin Sweeney

The human brain is an amazing thing, it is the central control of our bodies keeping us alive. It stores our memories and uses them helps us navigate and assign meaning to the complex world of interacting with other humans, things and events by linking emotions to the myriad of data coming in from our sensors all in an effort to keep us safe and alive. If we leave this process on auto-control our lives can quickly get overwhelming when we face times that are Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.

As leaders there is an expectation that you map out the way forward for your team, never is this more important than when the road gets rough. In order to be able to do this, you must first find a way to hack your brain’s natural responses and get it working for you so you can get on with leading your team out of the rough.

When an event happens, we are all triggered with an initial emotional hijack. Your internal programming recognises a threat and you subconsciously go into flight, fight or flail mode. From here your programming moves to appraisal mode as you work out why this happened, what it means and what you must do.  The first step in resilient leadership is making sure when this happens you take control of the process as soon as possible.

Why did this happen?

When we immediately attribute blame, be it internal or external, we are not helping ourselves find the opportunity. Instead during this time, it is most useful to understand the humanness of ourselves. Failure is rarely fatal, and it helps us to understand that the locus of control we have over our lives sits only within ourselves and rarely with external events. The ability to review the event with a compassionate lens will de-escalate the emotional triggers and move you quickly to the next phase. If you get really stuck here, you can pattern break the spiralling thought process controlled by the amygdala with something that requires immediate mental focus like counting backwards from 1000 in 7’s.

What does it mean?

When we attribute meaning to something we are trying to work out if what we are dealing with is a threat or a challenge. In its simplest form, a threat is something we evaluate as not having the resources to meet the demand required to overcome the event. A challenge is where we believe we have what it takes to get through this. Resilience is choosing to see the event as a challenge. It requires you to view the event response as finding a way to balance the resources with demands.

What do I have to do?

This is where the rubber meets the road and resilient leadership really shows up. It will likely require you to break the demands down into smaller and smaller tasks until they meet the size of your resources. This might look like a grocery list of things that need to be done over time. Or it could be working out what is in your immediate field of influence. What information do you have that you can use to make at least one decision? When things are changing all the time focusing on what you do know, and what you can do, will inform what the next right thing is. Start where you are, use what you have and do what you can.

The take-home message in all this is we have a choice in how we view the world and the lens we apply to the events in our lives. It is important to be aware of your natural programming so you can over-ride the emotional hijack and step up to the plate with confidence. We are imperfect human beings so cut yourself some slack if you don’t get it right. This programming control is easier if it practised every day. So, don’t write off that meditation or mindfulness session, it is grooming you for big things.