Preserve A Positive Mindset Through a Storm: 3 Examples on How Great Leaders Stay Ready in Tough Times.

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Some leaders have the ability to bounce back and smile. Almost – no matter what happens. That is quite desirable behavior. One that you can get too. This article explores how to you as a leader can have a positive mindset and stay mentally agile and ready for whatever comes next.  

Part of a leader’s function is to solve problems: the problems of employees, of the firm, of the higher-ups, etc. It’s particularly tough when you’re a middle manager squeezed between layers of the hierarchy. In the role of leader, you have to face many trials and respond with a professional smile.

Great complexity requires a positive mindset

When a leader gets promoted, expectations grow about how much responsibility she can shoulder, how much complexity she can manage, and how many tough pills she’ll have to swallow. In a high position, you can end up in the middle of conflicts in which you have had no part. You can be a target of criticism from employees, newspapers, and trade unions, and this criticism may seem undeserved, but dealing with it is part of your job. It is difficult to smile in situations like that. But as these situations keeps on coming to people in leadership positions, you have to learn how leaders can smile.

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Sometimes your own feelings are too deeply involved in the matter, and sometimes you lack the necessary tools to see things from the right perspective. Inability to deal with emotionally complex situations can lead to conflict, stress, lack of collaboration, loss of synergy, bad leadership, loss of benefit from reorganizing, and poor results.

Once you can see things from different perspectives, you can solve issues with greater ease. You can keep on smiling. But it requires that you can see yourself and others from different perspectives. Just like an actor-director, like Sofia Coppola, Ben Stiller, Jodie Foster or Angelina Jolie. Imagine what it demands of a person mentally to be both actor and director in the same film. He needs to see himself from the outside and from different perspectives in order to perform as a director.

Also, leaders need to be able to see themselves from the outside just like actor-directors to keep on smiling when the going gets tough.

Readiness for overcoming tough times

A director I coached named Maria worked at a factory in a place, where trade unions are very powerful. The factory’s optimal operation depended largely on collaboration with the trade union, which often resulted in conflicts. One day when she appeared on the screen for our virtual meeting, I could see her facial expression was different. She was clearly tense. Prominent trade union leaders had denounced her publicly using personal, inappropriate accusations that were completely false. She was angry and insulted but didn’t know what to do. The conflict had begun long before she had started at the factory, but now she was the target of all the attacks they could launch. The trade union had previously been successful at orchestrating the downfall of a factory manager by shaming him publicly.

In this example, an individual practicing her profession was personally attacked. Her personal traits and actions are tools and vehicles for her work, so it’s easy to understand why she felt the attacks were personal, especially since the injustice she felt also affected her in the private sphere. You might face a similar challenge in your job. We can quickly agree that the factory manager was treated unjustly. It would be nice if someone could take charge of the matter and correct the wrongs. But there are only two things we can be sure of: we will encounter challenges that are unfair, and one day we will die. We exert more influence on the way we experience life and what we get out of it if we choose to be co-authors of our own perspective. This doesn’t mean ignoring other perspectives—quite the contrary. But if we give our own perspective only the same weight as others and we see several different perspectives, then it becomes easier to avoid feeling personal affront and getting hijacked.

This is also why only those who can meet challenges and continue to get promoted as leaders. Leadership can sometimes seem like a long string of problems that demand solutions. In many ways, the picture of Sisyphus pushing a rock uphill in eternity accurately represents how it sometimes feels to be a leader.

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Become mentally agile with a positive mindset

The trick is to know how to be mentally agile. When being mentally agile, we can view matters from the perspectives of different people and alternate playing the roles of the protagonists and of those standing on the sideline on the same issue—or we can view the problems from the outside or sense an attack from behind. We can take a close-up look and sense what is really going on around us or climb to a helicopter perspective when we need to.

I often describe this as if our mind is a pond, still as when there is no wind. An agile mind will respond with just the right effect. As when you throw a small pine into the pond, it will create a perfect response towards the pine breaking the water surface. Just how we are able to respond to outcoming circumstances.

In my book, Power Barometer – manage energy, not just time and money, I give real examples on how high performing leader are practicing mental agility. To stay ready for whatever comes next. You can read more about it here or in this article. Here are three examples: 

  1. An executive, Susanne imagines she’s sitting at a table with all the people involved. Quite automatically, she shifts her mental perspective from chair to chair, not only to familiarize herself with their opinions but also to understand their feelings on the matter. It gives her a better foundation for making decisions and more insight into how much she can realistically expect from the parties concerned.

  2. An equity partner, Stephanie pays attention to her energy level and thoughts about other people. She takes a walk or meditates to stay agile. If she’s in a meeting where she can’t just get up and take a walk or meditate, she has another method. If she starts to get annoyed with someone, she chants silently to direct herself to see them in a more positive perspective, to make sure they don’t get to her, and to help the meeting to go well.

  3. When vice president, Philip feels hijacked, he finds it helpful “to go for a walk and see things from the outside,” he says. “Sometimes it’s a walk around the factory that’s needed. That can relieve some of the tension. Then I think perhaps it’s not as bad as I thought. Perhaps it doesn’t seem so bad—nevertheless.” Although he’s learned to mentally separate himself from any challenges he faces, Philip is impassioned and very absorbed in his work. The technique doesn’t involve creating so much distance that we lose our engagement and motivation. It’s a matter of looking at things from the outside.

Once Philip had a leader, Tom, who taught him and his colleagues how to perspectivate problematic issues and relieve tensions. Sometimes when they felt great pressure, he relieved the tension by saying, “Oh, in two years we’ll be sitting with our feet on the desk and laughing at it.”

So, let’s visualize Sisyphus on his way down the mountainside with a smile, or visualize someone else in a situation that seems absurd with a smile. This helps us make a U-turn and makes it possible to smile when we have to address absurd situations such as the climate crisis, in which humanity is on our way to eradicating ourselves, or any other difficult challenge.

If you want to develop your leadership towards more readiness and mental agility you’re more than welcome to reach out to me at hello@josefinecampbell.com, call +45 26 36 11 99 or apply here for a non-binding meeting. Lastly you can take a closer look towards if coaching could be for you.

We help people in multinational companies to handle challenges in a meaningful way and take business to the next level. If you would like to be updated with new articles and videos, sign up for our mailing list. Your mail is not shared with anyone and there are advantages to being on the list e.g., getting a mini course in your personal leadership.

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