Dealing with the impact of ever-changing work environments also requires strategies to deal with the stress and develop the skills to promote well-being.

Change brings stress and additional challenges into the workplace. We know that the kind of rapid change we face from the economy and technology can create undue emotional stress for leaders and employees. This stress can lead to increased absenteeism, regrettable turnover, stress leave and disengagement. Since emotions are contagious, leaders have a significant impact on the degree to which they and their employees approach change. Understanding how successful leaders maintain their own energy, self-confidence and sense of well-being while facing these challenges can provide us with some insights.

Drawn from recent Hay Group research, we will look at how successful women and leaders in Not-For-Profit organisations have demonstrated an ability to address a range of challenges using their self-belief and confidence to be resilient through times of turbulence and change.

Learnings from successful leaders

Hay Group’s recent research into successful Australian and New Zealand women highlights important critical behaviour that defines leadership success in times of significant uncertainty.

Firstly, successful women see change as opportunity – opportunity to take control of their agenda, enter new markets or to fill a leadership gap. They are optimistic about facing new challenges, ranging from becoming a mother to needing to transition from being a divisional leader in a large company into a smaller, fully integrated business.

In either case, women have had to consider how they use these opportunities to distribute leadership in their organisation or to support the development of future leaders.

These women are extremely confident in their own abilities to meet these challenges and proactively engage in developing an appropriate response to changing requirements. They are curious and interested in other people and industries, and many have developed a global and cultural perspective on issues.

They consider how they will best use their own energy to meet the sometimes conflicting demands of work and home. In addition, they bring this understanding to their workplace, helping parents and carers to identify how they can manage their multiple obligations.

Many of these women see the senior role as an opportunity to build a strong cross-functional senior team that shares accountability for understanding the external business environment, identifying and implementing organisational change in a responsive, successful manner.

They are attuned to organisational and social cues and can read others well, allowing them to easily grasp and deal with the underlying needs and desires of others in times of change.

“Successful women see change as an opportunity”

A view from the Not-for-Profit sector

Another Hay Group study of Not-For-Profit CEOs and executive leaders has found similar attributes. They are patient leaders with a strong focus on living the values of their organisation. These leaders are confident and able to focus on the purpose of their organisation and connect emotionally with others. They realise the importance of taking care of the needs of their teams in order to better respond and serve those in need. They show great humility and can engender positive responses to their leadership.

In summary, self-confidence, resilience and optimism are core to success in changing environments. Agile organisations must be aware that they also need to help those in leadership positions develop these skills in themselves and their staff, to ensure change and volatility don’t become derailers to the well-being of all staff, including managers.

The seven factors of resilience

We are all working with greater uncertainty, ambiguity and change than ever. Resilience is about dealing effectively with – and making the most of – what we experience in everyday life. It helps employees and leaders to improve their effectiveness and sustain their efforts.

While some people are naturally more resilient than others, drawing from 20 years of research, Reivich and Shatté’s work into the nature of resilience shows that resilience can be broken down into seven measureable factors that can be taught, learned and improved.

The seven factors1 are:

  1. Emotional regulation. The ability to stay calm under pressure, and be aware of emotions and be able to manage them – they can help guide decision-making when appropriate.
  2. Impulse control. The ability to shut out distraction and restrain immediate reactions.
  3. Causal analysis. The ability to comprehensively and accurately identify the causes of a problem.
  4. Self-efficacy. The ability to convey ideas and solutions in an assured manner.
  5. Realistic optimism. The belief that things can change for the better is important, yet contrary to popular belief, resilience lies in accurate thinking – not positive thinking.
  6. Empathy. The ability to read and understand others.
  7. Reaching out. The ability to seek out new opportunities, challenges and relationships.

Anyone regardless of their age, gender, position or cultural background can learn to be resilient. It is not what happens to us, but how we respond to what happens to us that has the greatest effect on the trajectory of our lives. Think Nelson Mandela or Steve Jobs, it was their resilience in the face of great adversity that made them succeed. Everybody can relate to resilience and what strengths need to be developed. To help improve performance in the future, local leaders will need to focus on finding the best way to develop their business resilience, by understanding their own capabilities and being able to swiftly and effectively manage change within their business environments, as this can be the difference between surviving, striving, or thriving.

1 Source: The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles by Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatté.


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About Contributor

Wendy is a Director at Korn Ferry Hay Group. She focuses on Executive Team Development, Leadership Development, Diversity and Emotional Intelligence. Wendy is passionate about helping senior executives become more effective leaders. She understands the impact great leadership has on people performance, and has extensive experience in aligning people and organisational design with business strategies.

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