7 Rituals of Resilient and Engaged Leaders


We are experiencing a leadership crisis as organisations strive to do more with less.

Recent Gallup research shows that 51% of leaders are disengaged and because they directly influence 70% of their team’s engagement, it is quickly evident how this constitutes a significant organisational problem.

Other research by Tony Schwartz and Harvard Business School of 19,000 employees globally reveals that only 25% of employees believe that their leader models sustainable work practices. Those one in four that believe their leader “walks the talk” of placing equal emphasis on performance and wellbeing have been shown to be 55% more engaged, have 72% higher wellbeing, and 200% greater trust in their leader.

What can leaders do differently to cope better with change and uncertainty and be more effective?

1. Make their health a priority

Leaders who make time for exercise, eating well and resting well will always outperform in the long term. A 30 minute brisk walk (or equivalent) significantly improves your mood after 2, 4, 8, and 12 hours compared to those that don’t exercise (Mayo Clinic 2008).

A NASA study of 4000 of their employees showed that those that took a 30 minute break for meditation, nap, or doing something that refreshed them, increased productivity by 35% and improved decision making by up to 50%, compared to those that didn’t (Wellbeing, Rath et al. 2010).

The Okinawan Island people from Japan are amongst the most vital and longest living in the world. Their diet is very high in vegetables/fruits/grains (85%) and fish (10%). Healthy leaders are productive leaders.

Ritual: schedule time daily to recharge your battery.

2. Nurture strong relationships (with the right people)

A 2008 Harvard study covering 30+ years of research and involving 12,000 people showed that the odds of you being happy are increased 15% if you have one happy person in your direct network. People who have 3-4 very close friendships are healthier, have higher wellbeing, and are more engaged in their work. A 2009 study of 140,000 people by the Gallup organisation revealed that those with the highest happiness to stress ratio spend 6 hours per day with people that they like. It is important to note that the 6 hours includes time at work, at home, on the telephone, email, social media etc.

A resilient leader also makes creating a caring culture a priority. Whilst Gallup have been measuring employee engagement since the 1970’s and evaluating and validating hundreds of survey questions, the one question which is most correlated with engagement, productivity, and high customer service levels is “I have a supervisor or someone at work, who seems to care about me as a person.” Compassion is good for business.

Ritual: schedule quality time each week to meet with people who are good for you.

3. Create strengths based tribes (at work and home)

People who have the opportunity to use their top 5 strengths each day are 6 times more likely to be engaged in their work and 3 times more likely to report high life satisfaction.

As a mentor or coach if you ignore someone there is a 40% chance they will be disengaged, if you focus on their weaknesses a 22% likelihood, but if you coach with strengths only 1% will be disengaged (Strengths Based Leadership, Rath et al 2010).

Tribes who strongly agree that they do what they do best each day are 38% more likely to be highly productive, 44% more likely to report high customer satisfaction scores, and 50% more likely to have high employee retention (Gallup research).

Ritual: Encourage everyone important in your life to know and develop their strengths – www.GallupStrengthsCenter.com .

4. Know what matters (and be grateful)

David McLelland, a psychology professor from Harvard, was fascinated by what qualities help people thrive. He developed a test that could predict with great accuracy which students would have a thriving career 20 years after graduation. Essential factors were: these people were not motivated to achieve social indicators of success, they set moderate goals that were meaningful to them (50:50 chance of success), they day dreamed about achieving these goals, they engaged in both optimistic and pessimistic thinking, and they sought advice from mentors before committing to that goal. (McClelland, Motivating Economic Achievement, 1969).

Writing down 3 things you are grateful for each day stimulates a 6 month boost to your mood (Seligman et al 2002).

Ritual: At least once a week ask yourself if you feel good about yourself, what you are doing, and how you are doing it.

5. Are great executors of the important

The Pareto Principle tells us that 20% of factors contribute 80% of the results. Resilient leaders are ruthless with their time and focus on the things that will deliver both wellbeing and performance for their tribe. They say “no” to the trivial so they can say “yes” to the important. They structure their day and week to ensure there is adequate blocks of time to focus on high impact activity.

Ritual: when you intend to do something important, identify when and where you are going to start it (research by Peter Gollwitzer from New York University show that this simple step increases execution rate by 300%).

6. Recognize and reward progress

The most motivating thing for information workers is knowing they are making progress on meaningful work (Progress Principle, Teresa Amabile et al, 2011).

Ritual: regularly acknowledge small steps of progress as soon as you see them and encourage others to do likewise.

7. Look to this day

Very resilient leaders live for today and don’t dwell on past mistakes and failures. No one sums up this philosophy better than Kaladasa, the 5th century Indian poet in his poem “Look to this day”.

Look To This Day

Look to this day:
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course
Lie all the truth and realities of your existence.
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action,
The splendour of achievement
Are but experiences of time.

For yesterday is now a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision;
But today well-lived, makes
Yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore to this day;
Such is the salutation to the ever-new dawn!

Ritual: practice mindfulness – being in the moment – with every person you encounter.

May you strive to be resilient every day.

Graeme Cowan is an author, speaker, and workshop facilitator who shows leaders how to build their resilience, mood, and performance and create thriving tribes. To inquire if Graeme could assist your tribe please email Renee at support@graemecowan.com.au

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