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Leadership Snohomish County (LSC) is a nonprofit that connects, ignites and develops county-specific sustainable leaders to strengthen our communities. Each year, we help experienced and emerging leaders in Snohomish County gain an understanding of the critical issues affecting the region and the stewardship capabilities needed to resolve them. Through our nine-month Signature Program and Young Professionals Program, we work in small teams with the business, government and nonprofit sectors as Community Impact Project Partners. LSC features more than 700 alumni who remain strongly invested in Snohomish County.

Inspiration from Local Leaders

What defines a community? It's not always what you'd think.

Frogs? Anyone?

Erika Olson

By Sara Haner, LSC Signature Class Member

We’ve been on this blog journey for a few months now, so I feel that I can be real with you. (Or, be authentic, rather.) This was a hard post for me to write. Honestly, truly difficult. This post is about resilience, and how important this trait is for a leader. Let’s keep going, and see if this is a tough topic for you, too.

First, let’s do a quick level-setting on resilience. According to Dr. Al Siebert, resilience is the ability to:

  • Cope well with high levels of ongoing disruptive change;
  • Sustain good health and energy when under constant pressure;
  • Overcome adversities;
  • Change to a new way of working and living when an old way is no longer possible; and
  • Do all this without acting in dysfunctional or harmful ways.

Have you heard that old parable about boiling a frog? You can place a live frog in cold water on the stove, and slowly turn up the heat. The water begins to boil so gradually that the frog adapts to the changing temperature, not noticing the change, and is eventually boiled. Yes, this is a pretty grim story, but it illustrates an important point. Isn’t this what happens so often in life and in our careers? We take on a stressful job, and become accustomed to the pressure, but then more work and responsibilities get piled on. The water begins to boil, slowly, and we barely notice it. Until we get sick, get fired, or...have a spectacular mental breakdown. (Cue bald Britney Spears circa 2007.)

Positive Leadership, the curriculum that Leadership Snohomish County works through, explains that resilience can be developed and managed, and everyone has a certain measure of resilience already. Resilience can be increased, but with it, so should boundaries and an awareness of our limits. And aha! This is where my difficulty with this topic comes in. Boundaries feels like such a dirty word to me. For some reason, I’m programmed to think that if I’m saying “yes” to myself, I’m saying ”no” to somebody else, and is it really acceptable for a leader to say no? Does this resonate with you?

I’m learning that it’s not only acceptable for a leader to have boundaries, but absolutely necessary.

We all have boundaries, but when you’re facing the realities of life, it’s hard to honor your boundaries, and usually only think about them once they’ve been exceeded. If we’re constantly in a state of overload, we’re prone to fatigue. How many times have you had a huge deadline, only to get terribly sick right afterwards? Cognitive and physical fatigue is also common when your limits are exceeded, and you can feel mentally fuzzy, or physically exhausted after a typical workweek.

When we regularly exceed our limits, we experience stress, fear, disappointment, frustration and guilt. These strong feelings only serve to make us feel worse, turning this into a vicious cycle.

So, what can be done? If you feel that you could be more resilient, or have better boundaries, what can you do?

Don’t exceed your limits.

Yes, you’re super! Yes, you’re a hero! But you’re not a superhero. You are a real, authentic, fallible human, and it’s important to know your limits. This takes courage, and means speaking up at work and in your personal obligations. You’re not being an infective leader when you’re honoring your boundaries. If anything, exceeding your limits reduces your resiliency, making you a less effective leader.

Be mindful of your battery.

Does the idea of giving a presentation, or making a spreadsheet, or interacting with clients make you feel especially drained? Or, do any of these activities fill you up? Pay special attention to this, as the tasks that drain your energy compromise your resilience. Of course, you might not be able to avoid all of these tasks all of the time, but understanding your strengths and preferences is incredibly powerful, and can help steer you towards greater balance and increased resilience. Like a battery, leaders have a fixed capacity, and exceeding it leaves you literally drained.

Increase your capacity for resiliency.

Finding balance is half of the resiliency battle. The other half is increasing your capacity for resiliency. To do this, we’ve discussed the following strategies in Leadership Snohomish County:

  • Creating traction
  •  Overcoming distraction
  • Capitalizing on action
  • Self monitoring, both your capacity and demand
  • Knowing when to say yes and when to say no
  • Taking preventative measures to preserve your resilience.

Looking for more specifics on each of these strategies? Consider participating in Leadership Snohomish County next year! The signature and young professional programs will start accepting applications in a few weeks for the 2016-2017 class {LINK to apply page}, and you’ll learn so much about resilience and how it relates to leadership. I can’t recommend this program enough!

To wrap this up, there’s a quote I love by Stephen Covey. He says:

You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically, to say “no” to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger “yes” burning inside.

To me, this speaks to the heart of resilience and boundaries in leadership. Leaders know the big picture, and align their priorities and commitments accordingly. Leaders feel the water starting to boil, and know how to survive, thrive, and honor their boundaries.

How do you feel about your own resilience as a leader? How do you assert your boundaries and keep an eye on your limits? Share in the comments below, I’d love to know!