Show resilience not strength: Karen Middleton on leadership

What makes a good leader? It’s not just about being tough, says CSP's chief executive.


How many times have you heard the phrase ‘he/she is a strong leader’? Does it mean they are successful, or charismatic, or tough? Is being a ‘strong’ leader a good thing?

I’d argue that the most important thing is to be resilient. It’s about being able to adapt to stress and adversity; to bounce back, to keep going even when things are tough and to start again when things go wrong.

Resilience is not only an important attribute to have in order to achieve your purpose, but also for those around you – and for your own health and wellbeing.

We all lead very busy lives. Everything demands an instant response. The ‘to do’ list just gets longer. So how do you cope?

First and foremost, accept that ‘good enough’ is sometimes acceptable. Striving for perfection takes a lot of time. That time might not be worth the added benefit.

Second, plan for what you can allow time for and what you can’t. Think about the 80:20 rule: plan for 80 per cent of what you do but allow for the 20 per cent that can’t be predicted. Constantly reacting can be wearing.

Learn to delegate properly. Think about something delegated well to you. What made it a good experience? Can you replicate this?

Ensure the person you delegate to knows explicitly that they now have responsibility for the task. Do they need to report progress or just let you know when the task has been completed? Ensure you have delegated the task to the right person and that they have the ability and capacity to complete it. There is nothing worse than setting someone up to fail, or to hear people say ‘it would have been easier to do it myself’.

When delegated a task, ensure you are clear about all of the above. This will help with your resilience.

Next is keeping a sense of proportion. When you are, or have been, a clinician, you have a sense of what urgency really is. This has helped me countless times when the pressure was building. Keeping the task in perspective helps me to address it without panicking.

Talking about what is bothering you can help, but take care to select the right person. Asking for help sets up a power differential. Don’t choose someone who may abuse that power.

So how do you ‘bounce back’ when things go wrong? Have a sense of proportion, but reflect on what’s happened. It is very tempting to get over an event quickly but without reflection, we may make the same mistake again.

As leaders we have to manage the stress we face, as our approach will be copied by those we lead.

Our ability to adapt to stress and anxiety is directly related to our own health and wellbeing. We have a responsibility, to ourselves and others, to take great care.

Staying physically fit, planning holidays, eating and drinking healthily all add to our resilience.

I’ve been learning about mindfulness and its value in our busy lives. Making space to be alone helps to ‘create time’ and builds resilience. fl

Karen Middleton

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