Why organizational resilience must start with leadership resilience

Recent statistics on workforce emotional health that impacts organizational resilience are troubling: 15% lower work satisfaction; 40% higher stress and anxiety; 20% worse work-life balance.

These stats probably aren’t surprising – until you learn that they represent the feelings of executives, not just rank-and-file employees.

They’re from a recent survey by Future Forum, which reveals that senior leaders are suffering increasing levels of emotional stress just like their staff. This burden can be even greater in industries like healthcare, where recent operating losses are mounting due to out-of-control labor and supply costs.

Senior leadership anxiety that effects organizational resilience is especially problematic for two reasons. First, executives often are more reluctant to admit to themselves and others that they are struggling. And second, executives’ state-of-mind and resilience reverberates through the entire organization. Adapting an old economic truism, “when a senior leader sneezes, the entire company catches cold.”

Whether you are feeling more pressure and stress as a leader or not, the following four investments in personal resilience help support organizational resilience.

Cultivate a small group of trusted peers outside of the healthcare organization

Often just talking through issues with someone who understands what you’re going through is therapeutic. To be most helpful, that person must be someone who you trust and can be completely honest with. These relationships take time to develop, so don’t wait until the house is on fire before looking for a bucket of water.

These professional friendships need to be bilateral to be enduring and successful. Being there to listen non-judgmentally when a fellow executive needs a friendly ear can be surprisingly gratifying for both individuals.

Consider hiring an executive coach

In the day, coaches usually helped average managers get better. That’s not the case anymore. The world of executive coaching has exploded because senior leaders and their organizations recognize that: 1) it is indeed lonely at the top, 2) a well-trained, professionally prepared coach is an invaluable, independent sounding board, and 3) helping leaders perform better helps the entire organization.

Executive coaches who are professionally-prepared for the role provide exceptional insight and perspective just by asking the right questions. But they can’t always replicate the relationship you have with a trusted peer outside the organization. Especially if your organization has assigned an executive coach, you may want to be careful about what you share until you’ve developed a strong, trusting relationship with them.

Nurture an organizational culture where your team wants to support you as much as you support them

Employees benefit from candid, transparent, empathetic communication. But these practices create that are beneficial for executives, too. When I was a hospital CEO, I was humbled by how much staff appreciated my personal contributions and sacrifices. But that only happened because they felt they knew me as a person, not just as the CEO. When that happens, staff are far more likely to step up during times of stress and challenge to support the organization and its senior leaders.

Listen more closely both to those who care about you — and to your own inner voice that’s telling you that you need help

Hopefully, increased openness and less shame around mental health in our society is reaching the executive offices of companies. Individuals know how excessive stress affects their overall health and well-being. But for executives, the pressure to stay strong and just push through can be unyielding.

Many years ago when I was a young hospital CEO, our organization went through an extremely difficult time that threatened the long-term viability of the enterprise. I always considered myself a strong person who could successfully deal with anything that was thrown at me. But these challenges were unlike any I had encountered before. I found myself struggling to focus; I was only getting a couple hours sleep each night; and I worried I was letting everyone down.

My inner voice was telling me there was a problem. But I refused to listen until two people who really cared about me – my wife and the hospital medical staff president – told me in no uncertain terms, “You need to take care of yourself and get some help.” I did. And it made a remarkable difference at one of the most difficult, vulnerable times of my life.

I remember that when I went to see my primary care physician, his nurse practitioner gave me a simple, 10-question survey that helped me reflect on my anxiety and how stress was affecting me. Here is a similar short questionnaire from the UK National Health Service. Interestingly, it asks you to focus on your mood over just the past two weeks because the symptoms of stress and anxiety can come on quickly and unexpectedly.

Smart healthcare executives know that taking care of themselves and building their own personal resilience is essential to their success. But beyond personal well-being, it’s also a critical factor in organizational resilience during increasingly challenging times.

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