Resilience (2 of 2)

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Last week we defined resilience as the ability of a leader to recover quickly from setbacks, adapt to change, and maintain a positive attitude in the face of adversity. I shared six ideas with you for intentionally fostering resilience in your leadership.

This week, part two.

The most extreme sport on the planet (in my opinion) is a single-handed, non-stop, circumnavigation of the earth in a sailboat. Fewer than 100 people have accomplished this. Compare that to over 10,000 successful ascents of Mount Everest and you understand the rarity of this feat.

The first person to achieve this was Sir Robin Knox-Johnston in the 1968-1969 Golden Globe Race. The trip took 312 days in his 32 foot yacht Suhaili.

Today, the trip can be made in about 75 days, using ultra-modern 60 foot carbon fiber planing sailboats called IMOCAs. These boats compete every 4 years in a race called the Vendee Globe.

What can we learn from these elite athletes about resilience?

Physical Fitness – As leaders, we can “burn the candle at both ends.” Some of us, myself included, get so focused on what we are doing that we sacrifice basic disciplines that keep us sharp. For me, diet and physical fitness are the first to go. This isn’t healthy, but that’s my tendency.

For IMOCA sailors, this is not an option. The grueling nature of the race demands that they stay physically fit, follow proper nutritional guidelines, and stick closely with their race plan. In fact, during the toughest leg of the race, through the treacherous Southern Ocean, they are forced to operate in a caloric and sleep deprived state for several weeks.

Resilience is best developed and maintained when you are at your physical best.

Mental Toughness – These sailors cultivate the ability to stay focused, maintain a positive attitude, and persevere in the face of extreme physical and mental stress. Examples include – prolonged isolation, severe weather conditions, exhaustion and equipment failure.

One of the best ways for leaders to cultivate mental toughness is to intentionally involve yourself in activities outside your comfort zone. I don’t mean extreme sports, just something that pushes you slightly beyond your current barriers.

Breaking personal barriers in concert with maintaining proper physical fitness will result in maximum resilience over time.

Adaptability – Last week I discussed the importance of embracing change. Cultivating adaptability is similar, but different. I define adaptability as the near-term capacity to adjust to new and changing circumstances, learn from mistakes, and make informed decisions in high-stress situations.

For IMOCA sailors, this is done in real-time. Weather doesn’t follow the forecasted conditions, things break. Stopping in the middle of the ocean isn’t an option, so these athletes are forced to adapt and fix it on the fly.

What can you do to improve your ability to respond more effectively to short-term variations in your circumstances or plan?

Emotional Regulation – I’ve watched countless hours of video of these athletes as they make their way around the world. Emotional ups and downs are a daily occurence. The skill to regulate their emotional state under offshore conditions is – without exaggeration – vital for their survival.

Most of us don’t face life or death situations like these sailors do. But, if you’ve ever had a boss or co-worker who regularly “loses it” with staff or co-workers, you know the negative impact that can have.

Effectively managing your emotional state will maximize your long-term impact.

I’ll probably never have opportunity to join this elite group of offshore sailors, but I love and embrace the lessons they’ve taught me about leadership resilience.

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