Successful expats are those who are able to achieve in the face of adversity. They are able to roll with the punches, and deal with change; in fact you could say that they tend to have a level of resilience that is more robust than normal.
So what does resilience look like through the eyes of a successful expat; and equally important, what can we learn from these people about resilience?
There are five things that they tend to possess, or do quite well, that equally applies to the success of any role. They:
1. Have self-confidence
2. Are able to tolerate frustration and discomfort
3. Know how to moderate their lifestyle and avoid burnout
4. Take emotional and behavioural responsibility
5. Are flexible
The combination of these attributes enables access to key resilient behaviours, such as:
Conflict management. The ability to resolve conflict becomes more effective when the blocks to assertiveness are confronted.
Time management and Productivity. Is optimised by dealing with avoidance and low frustration-tolerance.
Communication skills. These are improved, irrespective of the language barrier, or the working environment , when you are able to deal with the tension and low frustration-tolerance that arises from normal beliefs like: ‘I must look good/perform well in front of my new colleagues’; or ‘I should be able to communicate better’.
Cultural assimilation. The ability to remain self-confident in the face of language and everyday cultural barriers experienced in the office, or at home… and in an increasingly globalised workforce this is becoming an increasingly important attribute.
Probably the most important characteristic, which in many respects is a combination of the above attributes, is the ability for the successful expat to feel comfortable in their own skin despite the ambiguity and heady mix of work and lifestyle changes that surrounds them. The ability to understand their limits, seek to know what they don’t know and be prepared to share and work on this is what truly sets the successful expat aside from the expat who merely survives.
If you are an aspiring expat take note...these points will get you off on the right foot. If you aren’t an expat and simply want to enhance your levels of resilience then you can’t go past these points.
I have learnt over time the importance of resilience, and being able to manage and lead a team during times of uncertainty. As much as it can be painful and works against our natural desire for structure in our daily lives, being able sit in the middle of ambiguity and lead a team effectively despite the unknown can reap great rewards for you and your people.
Before I talk a little on ambiguity, the first thing to understand is the idea of resilience. If you are able to develop a healthy level of resilience, you are in a better position to understand, or at least make some sense of the uncertainty that can sometimes surround you as a leader. Those times, for example, when there is a restructure or that period of uncertainty after a new manager or CEO commences. Even in smaller businesses when you are realizing that it is time to strengthen or adapt your product line to remain viable. Uncertainty knows no bounds and when you step into the role of leading a business or others, you suddenly start to realize just how much uncertainty tends to exist…especially when you are in the thick of it and expected to make decisions that affect others.
Some ideas on how you can start to develop resilience are covered in an earlier post “Effective Self-Management - the key to Resilience”. But what is the link between resilience and dealing with uncertainty?
The added value for a leader who can manage with, and through, periods of uncertainty is that they can
Now these aren't necessarily easy, particularly if you like to have higher levels of control and structure in your life. The reality is that you may not know what the exact outcome or future looks like. Yet for your people to remain productive and focused your job is to create a focus or direction. This is where resilience comes into play as you may be behaving in a way that is not natural. In other words, you are living the new way of being even though you still haven't figured out what it all really means. You are creating a structure for your team to operate in, even when you aren’t sure of the bigger picture yourself.
Some of the best leaders I have followed and worked with have been able to do this. Even when I knew they couldn’t be absolutely certain of what was happening around them, they had the courage to back themselves, and their ability to create a mini-structure and direction when the drive and energy of the wider company came to a stand still during a crisis.
An easy example of this are those leaders who, when there is a major restructure or leadership change at the top of the organisation, continue to ensure a productive and focused team. They choose a direction, steer the team in that direction, and provide stability and focus for their team. This can be as simple as heightened focus on team objectives and an increase in team meeting frequency to share what information is known. In a complex or matrix organisation, the ability toconduit manage is a critical skill in making this happen.
I’ve also seen the opposite occur; when the manager chooses to use this time to stop everything and wait. The problem with this is that the energy in the team builds as a result of the natural stressors and tensions in the organisation, especially if there is talk of lay-offs. But rather than providing an outlet for the energy through direction and focus, the manager harvests uncertainty and ambiguity, which is fuelled by gossip and misinformation.
To deal with uncertainty in the best possible way, keep things simple and follow these guidlines:
There are many facets to the idea of resilience, and last week I spoke about an important starting point…managing your stress. This week I’m taking a look at another important skill that underpins resilience; effective self-management.
We see leaders and professionals applying effective self-management when they face issues in their personal lives, and yet they are able to remain highly effective in their roles at work and other parts of their lives. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t dealing with the problem at hand, it simply means that they are able to ensure that the problem is contained, understood and dealt with in such a way that the impact on other parts of their lives is minimised. To be clear though, this is different to those people who appear to be coping effectively on a social level, when the reality is that they are not managing, or dismissing the severity of, the problems they may be experiencing in other parts of their lives.
This article will focus on my experiences with those who self-manage in a healthy way. We will take a Self-Management 101 approach to stimulate your thinking around how you can integrate this skill into your life.
To start with, I’ll give you a tangible example of what’s meant by self-management in this context…
When we design an organisation, or when an engineer designs the building in which the organisation will live, there is an interesting principle applied. That is, to ensure that if one part of the business is impacted negatively, it has minimal effect on the other. For example, ensuring that if there is a fire in the storeroom, it won’t affect the server room nearby containing all of that valuable information. Or in an organisational design, ensuring that there is a contingency in place to ensure a division, function or an entire organisation can still be led despite the unexpected departure of a key leader. In both of these examples there are measures that ensure healthy continuity. The storeroom separate to the server room, and a talent and succession program that is conducted in parallel to the everyday leadership of the organisation.
So how does this apply to resilience? In simple terms, a resilient person is able to manage a crisis in one part of their life whilst limiting its impact on the other parts of themselves. Or, in a more proactive way, knowing how to use the unaffected parts of their life to help them overcome the crisis or at least provide some measure of compensation.
It may sound complicated, but it’s easier than you think. You are a system that is comprised of many interdependent parts, just as in the above examples. So how do you build in your own fail safe contingencies? Let’s look at it using three simple aspects, body, mind and career:
You rely on your body to get you around; if you are always down with the flu, having a sore back or injuring yourself it’s pretty clear what the flow on effect will be. Remember, your body is what people see first… first impressions count; not just in the job interview, but also as a leader your overall demeanour is critical. If you fail to look after yourself this can have a negative flow on to how you feel about yourself, how you see yourself and other internal factors.
Your body may be in great shape, but how about your general sense of self? Your ability to understand who you are, being aware of your knowledge gaps and continually seeking to close them is an important contributor to overall health and well-being. We have all seen the link between depression and lack of exercise or over-eating.
Your career may be doing ok…but for how long? What’s important to be doing today to ensure that your career takes you where you want to be? Importantly, you may be in a job that is uninspiring or miserable. You can self-manage here as well. If you can’t be in the job you want, seek the stimulation elsewhere; such as through increasing your skills and knowledge or improving your physical well-being.
So how can you work with these components to ensure you remain resilient when you need it most? Here are some ideas.
1. Prevent a physical problem from become psychological problem
If you get injured or suffer illness it’s easy to succumb to the downward spiral which can easily impact on how you see yourself and how you think others see you. This in turn can have a direct impact on the perception you have of your ability. However, if you self-manage, you can see the injury or illness for what it is and seek to understand why it happened, and what needs to happen for the illness or injury to be dealt with, without letting it slip into anything greater. You can also use the period of recovery to ‘sharpen the saw’ as Steven Covey would say and learn something new.
2. Prevent a psychological problem from becoming physical
If you failed in your last exam, or have been having a rough time at college with your latest subjects, self-managing can assist again. Most of us have been there, when our bodies seem to lack energy because we are struggling with an issue. This may seem a little more difficult to deal with, however if you sense that you are down or feeling challenged (emotionally or intellectually), using your body to do some exercise can be just the stimulus to help prevent the issue from having a negative flow on effect physically. That doesn’t mean that you dismiss the problem; not at all. Take a rational approach to analysing the what, why and how of the situation. The cause and effect. What do you own as opposed to what the other party owns? Keep your thinking in the here and now. Personally, I find that some physical exercise can be a perfect accompaniment to analysing the situation, and sometimes just the spark to finding the solution. At the worst, it helps ensure that my body and physical health doesn’t suffer at the hands of a problem…a problem that I may not even own!
Another aspect of self-management is to understand when your education or your emotional awareness needs a boost. Often, depending on the subject, developing one can positively impact on the other!
3. Optimise your career by ‘keeping it real’!
The same principles apply to your career. If your career isn’t delivering, then take a look at the other aspects of your life and seek to understand the inter-dependencies; could it be that your physical or emotional well-being is having a negative impact on your career? Again, it’s about the simple step of analysing the cause and effect. If your analysis points to the fact that your job is genuinely miserable then remember to see it as just ‘the job’. Strip the emotion away and see it for what it is. This may be difficult to do if you have invested much of yourself in the role; however it is the best way to take an objective look at what is needed to take that next step. I’ve seen many people get unnecessarily depressed in their role for any number of reasons, and the fact is this impacts on your ability to think creatively about your options. If you aren’t in a position to move on, consider looking to the other parts of your life to get the stimulus needed to keep you healthy; exercise, study towards the job you want, volunteer. There are ways to ensure that an unhappy job doesn’t have a significant impact on the other parts of your life.
Above all, remember that it is ok to be down from time to time. It’s natural. However, it’s also just as natural to bounce back. By being an effective self-manager you help to keep the victim in check, and increase your resilience despite the challenges you face.
Flexibility will help you survive, and succeed, in leadership.
Research has told us for some time that those of us who don’t cope well with stress tend to fear change. This impacts on our ability to make effective decisions, not just for ourselves, but for those we lead as well.
Most importantly it reduces, or removes, our ability to be flexible; to bend with breeze, roll with the punches, and then be resilient enough to pick ourselves up and just get on with it.
There are two easy things you can start doing today that will help you increase your flexibility and resilience as a leader; prioritise need vs nice to know and get 'stress-aware'
Prioritise need to know versus nice to know
We all know that the pace of change in business and life is rapid, and the reality is that we won’t be able to keep up with everything. Yet this is an increasing source of stress for leaders, especially in global organisations with complex structures where it seems policy, process and structure is shifting on a regular basis. The key is to be smart; prioritise the changes that are important for you to be across against those that are nice to be known. This will not only help you think more critically about what is happening in your organisation or industry, it is a rational process that allows you to develop skills in time management (which as we all know is another source of stress!)
Improve your 'stress-awareness'
Leadership can be a lonely place; and if you are a leader responsible for driving change it can be even lonelier. This is not the ideal environment to be experiencing destructive stress. Unlike constructive stress, that’s sort of stress we experience when we are being stretched, learning new things or playing sport for example, destructive stress has it’s foundation in unhealthy beliefs about our self, and our ability to deal with situations. When we experience destructive stress we are unable to access the full range of possible solutions to problems, because we are more focussed (unconsciously) on protecting ourselves.
To improve your stress-awareness, the quickest and most effective way to get results is to team up with a coach, mentor or counsellor who is qualified to explore with you the source of your stress, and to help you work with it. Alternatively, depending on the level of stress you may experience, there are plenty of online resources available, and of course volumes of books in the self-help section of your local book store.
I guess the key message is to do something about it!
An effective leader is a healthy-minded and resilient leader. Remember that your behaviour is out there for all to see, including the decisions you make and how you make them. If you are able to keep up with the changes in your organisation and industry, and have a healthy level of stress-awareness, then you are in a far better place from which to lead.