Supporting emotional resilience

bright idea‘Bother’, I thought; ‘I can’t see how to open this to check the fuse.’ The 4-way adapter had died. The on-light was not illuminated, so I wanted to open it and check the internal fuse. No time at the moment. I left it 2 days. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t mend itself. ‘ A trip to Argos’, then, I thought, mildly irritated. Then, ‘Hang on’, I said to myself; ‘what about changing the fuse in the plug?’ Hey presto! It worked and I have to confess I felt rather smug at having saved myself time and money by replacing the fuse in the plug (time 2 seconds; money: approx. 10p) rather than walking (happily, I can) to Argos (time 15 minutes; money about £15.00).

That got me thinking. How often do we as leaders miss the obvious cost-effective solution? This week I’ve been looking again at my research on emotional resilience for school leadership. Why emotional resilience? Because managing our emotions is ultimately what allows us to continue without being overwhelmed.

So is emotional resilience something leaders are born with? Does it develop over time? Can it be learned? The answer to all these questions is ‘yes’. One of the headteachers I interviewed talked about having ‘a lucky personality’. There were very few situations in which she’d felt she really couldn’t think of a way out. All interviewees felt that their emotional resilience had developed over time just by doing the job. Are we happy to leave it to chance, or can we pro-actively develop emotional resilience for leadership?

It is possible to learn to be more emotionally resilient and there are ways of behaving and thinking which will help. The difficulty is that many headteachers instinctively put their own needs at the bottom of the list. Even those who know about Stephen Covey’s time management guidance and dealing with the conflicting demands of what’s important and what’s urgent, don’t see their own needs as sufficiently significant to prioritise them. Research suggests that ways of feeding headteachers’ emotional resilience include

  • Taking exercise
  • Eating a healthy diet: drinking lots of water and alcohol in moderation
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Networking with other headteachers
  • Recognising and celebrating what’s going well
  • Recognising that some things are outside my influence
  • Re-connecting with what gives me a buzz
  • Having regular coaching to ensure the above
  • Accepting that sometimes ‘good enough’ has to be good enough

Of course you know all this, but when the pressure’s on, other things seem more important. You miss the obvious: that you can deal with life’s pressures more effectively if you’re feeling more emotionally resilient.
What’s really required to facilitate all the above is deep self-awareness and a belief that it is okay to prioritise your own needs. That’s tricky.

If you’re deeply self aware, you will know why you find it difficult to put yourself first; you’ll listen to and heed your body’s warning signals; you’ll challenge unhelpful patterns of thinking; you’ll recognise that you have a choice concerning whether to absorb others’ stress; you’ll resist colluding with the expectation that you are superman/woman.
and you’ll show compassion for yourself.

Given the climate of high expectations, high public accountability and lack of compassion shown by the press or the government, that’s going to be difficult. But it is possible.

Make a start today – and by the way, it’s okay to ask for help.


2 thoughts on “Supporting emotional resilience”

  1. Thank you Julia. This is excellent advise from an outstanding practitioner. I found the article illuminating. I am happy that I do much of what you suggest except the “asking for help” bit. Sadly, I was conditioned from early years that asking for help is a sign of deplorable weakness and a form of unhealthy dependency.

    Thank you for this enlightening article.

  2. Many thanks for your comment, Faysal. Your knowledge that your early conditioning which leads you to regard it as a sign of weakness to ask for help exactly illustrates what I mean by ‘deep self-awareness’. You know that you find it difficult to ask for help and are in a position to challenge that and work towards changing that pattern of thinking if you find it unhelpful. The irony is, it’s hard to do it alone, so you may need help to challenge the thought that it’s not okay to ask for help!

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