Image by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pixabay

Several years ago, I trained embassy personnel in a highly volatile part of the world. The staff faced incredible challenges in their efforts to achieve U.S. foreign policy goals. I was pleased to meet a senior leader who was practicing many of the resilience skills I was teaching, and, as a result, his accomplishments were far above average. I thought he was one of the best resilience role models I had met in the State Department.

Imagine my surprise when I mentioned this to his colleagues only to have them respond with skepticism. They protested, stating that the leader must have been working all of the time without breaks to accomplish everything he did. They felt they could not keep up with him. I then realized that no one saw him engaging in resilience-enhancing activities. Instead, they assumed he was working all the time. They were frustrated because when they tried to work longer hours, they did not achieve the same results. They viewed him as superhuman and not as a role model.

This exchange highlighted how important it is that leaders let staff see them engaging in resilience practices and talk about why they prioritize certain activities and the impact they have on their abilities.

Here are some tips on how you can model resilience for your staff:

Put events on your calendar

If you work out during lunch, put it on your calendar as exercise time. Put your ten-minute morning walk on your schedule. Staff often has access to senior leaders’ calendars, and seeing these activities scheduled sends the message that they are essential and not frivolous.

Leave work on time

While there will always be days when a crisis requires us to work overtime, it is essential that senior leaders are consistently seen leaving the office on time. Walk around and say goodnight. If you must check emails after hours, don’t respond until you’re back in the office.

Take vacation

Designate and train a backup and take several weeks of leave each year. If you check emails while on vacation, don’t respond until you’re back in the office. Talk about your vacation plans and how your vacation made you feel afterward.

Talk about your passions

If your family is your passion, talk about them, and mention the importance of being home for dinner with your children. If a hobby is your passion, let your team know why you make time for it. When your employees see how much you value non-work activities, they will feel free to do the same.

Publicly ask for help

Many leaders are reluctant to admit in public that they need help, worried they will appear to be vulnerable or not up to the demands of the job. However, asking for help improves resilience, and when leaders publicly ask for help, they encourage others to do the same.

Acknowledge your bad days

Most people try to give the impression that they are okay even when they are not. When leaders acknowledge that they are having a tough time because a child is ill or a friend just died, this communicates that it is reasonable to struggle from time-to-time. 

How have you or one of your supervisors modeled resilience?