4 Rules for the Resilient Leader


In times of unprecedented change and uncertainty, leadership and employee disengagement has become the norm. The only thing we can control is what we choose to do each day – and that directly impacts our mood, engagement, and performance.

Mastering our mood is a critical resilience skill not just for leaders but also for their tribes.

Research by Shawn Achor published in HBR shows that employees with a positive mood are 31% more productive, sell 37% more, have 10% higher customer rating, and are 300% more creative. Conversely, Medibank research now shows that depression and stress disorders now contribute 34% of lost productivity through absenteeism and presenteeism.

When it comes to wanting to increase resilience and improve our mood, the need for a simple but useful tool is critical.

Enter the “moodometer” – a simple sliding scale that compels you to think about your mood and act where appropriate.

When you consider the feelings associated with the Green, Orange, and Red Zone, ask yourself what zone best equips you as a leader to:

  • Create a shared purpose with your tribe;
  • Have a difficult conversation with an underperforming employee;
  • Have a partnership conversation with your biggest customer;
  • Create time in the day for your renewal;

As a leader we are the Chief Mood Officer (CMO) for ourselves and our tribe. Our communication style, attitude and how we act can either create or destroy tribal mood and resilience.

How do we manage our priorities so that we can outperform, outlast, and outmanoeuvre?

Rule 1: Keep self in Green Zone

As leaders we have a million demands on our time and it is easy to end a busy day feeling exhausted. Many of us also have demands from our family and friends, but if our fuel tank is empty after work, we are ill equipped to be present, and to care for those that are most important to us.

If we don’t keep ourselves in the green zone, we can’t help our family, friends, employees or the community. We can’t give what we don’t have.

Research by Tony Schwartz in HBR shows that only 1 in 4 employees believe there leader has a balanced life but those employees are 55% more engaged, 72% higher wellbeing, 77% more satisfied at work, and 200% higher trust. (HBR July 2014)

3 keys to staying in the green zone:

  1. Know and live your personal purpose
  2. Have daily energy enhancement rituals
  3. Know and constantly improve your top 5 strengths

Related: 9 Leadership Tips for a Resilient and Outperforming Tribe (Linkedin)

Rule 2: Keep your tribe in the green zone

With constant restructures, retrenchments and the unrelenting demand to do more with less, it is not surprising that the engagement level in many teams is severely depleted. A positive, energetic and resourceful tribe will always trump a disheartened and fearful one.

A global study by Towers Watson showed that an engaged and healthy organisation produced a profit margin of 27% versus 10% for the disengaged group.

A Green Zone organisation is 270% more profitable.

5 steps to keep a tribe in the green zone

  1. Create a shared tribal purpose
  2. Define success
  3. Build tribal energy
  4. Practice strengths based coaching
  5. Recognize progress
Rule 3: Help those in the Red Zone

As highlighted previously, depression and stress disorders are now the greatest contributor to lost productivity through absenteeism and presenteeism.

The financial and social cost of these conditions is extraordinary, but perhaps the most tragic component of this situation is that 86% of affected employees would rather suffer in silence than discuss it with their colleagues.

We have the largest contributor to lost productivity and no one is talking about it – this is why I wrote the report called The Elephant in the Boardroom: getting mentally fit for work 

Building the will and the skill to help employees in the Red Zone:

Learn how to ask R U OK?

  1. Break the ice – then ask “Are you OK?”
  2. Listen without judgement – the more they fill understood the more they are like to follow advice
  3. Encourage action – to see their doctor, call EAP or call a help line
  4. Follow up – to ensure they have taken action

Related: USA NBC TV interview with me about how to help those in Red Zone


Rule 4: Start with Rule 1

Every psychologist and rehabilitation specialist will tell you that it is much easier to keep someone in the Orange or Green Zone than to help them recover once they are in the Red Zone.

This is why the 3 Rules should be followed as listed.

For further tips on staying in the Green Zone download the 10 Things Science Says Will Make You Thrive Poster 

To enquire about Graeme presenting to your tribe or speaking at your next event email support@graemecowan.com.au

About Graeme Cowan

Graeme is a speaker and author who helps leaders to build their resilience, engagement, and performance. He is one of Australia’s leading authorities on how to create a Thriving Tribe culture.

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