August 26, 2020

Chris Paton: How personal resilience can help business leaders cope with an uncertain future

As turbulent times go, it’s hard to imagine a more unpredictable or nebulous time than right now. The Covid-19 pandemic has swept through the business landscape like a typhoon, leaving devastation in its wake, with many businesses either permanently closed or temporarily suspended. 

Of those that have so far survived there are a lucky few who have seen no change - or in fact a rise - in demand. But what about the rest? How have they navigated the pandemic and lived to see another day?

Vistage Speaker, and MD of Quirk Solutions (a management consultancy specialising in business resilience and execution success), Chris Paton, believes resilience is the key to surviving the unexpected. Without it, he says, you stand little chance of successfully steering a business through an uncertain future. 

But what do we actually mean by resilience? And how can you build it into your business? Chris believes it has to begin with personal resilience. We caught up with him to find out more…

Start with the fundamentals

‘First and foremost’, says Chris, ‘resilience is built on a foundation of three fundamental components: diet, sleep, and exercise’. In his experience, this is something which too many business leaders neglect. 

‘A lot of leaders don’t consider the physical components of resilience. They forget that if you’re not getting enough sleep, if your diet is poor, if you do no exercise, then your body starts to get more and more run down which causes you to find everything - even little things - difficult’.

"Develop a reservoir of personal resilience."

According to Chris, getting these fundamentals right will help you ‘develop a reservoir of personal resilience’ as a leader, so that when problems do arise, you don’t instantly feel fatigued and unable to cope. Once you have this reservoir of personal resilience, it also allows you to help others develop theirs. 

Get comfortable with the unexpected

The nature of the unexpected is that it is, by its very essence, unforeseeable. However, as Chris says, this shouldn’t stop you from being prepared: 

‘We need to be comfortable with the unexpected and become more familiar with the fact that at some point a crisis is going to happen. We need to make the unexpected routine and make the reactions familiar.’ So, how do we do this?

The best way to deal with a crisis is to buy yourself time to think’, Chris explains. ‘You need to slow down and think - but if you take too long to think, sometimes you’ll miss the opportunity that's there.’ Chris believes the military strategy of ‘actions on’ is the way business leaders should approach preparing for the unexpected. This technique effectively creates an immediate, pre-planned response to a number of possible situations or crises, as Chris explains:

‘In the military, before we would go out on a patrol in Afghanistan, we would say “actions on being sniped at” or “actions on a bomb going off”. We would talk through exactly what we were going to do in that immediate moment. This immediate response would buy the leader time to create a more long-term strategy.’

Control the things you can control

When it comes to control, Chris believes it’s all a matter of perspective; if you focus on the things you can control, you become more resilient as a person. ‘It’s about how you react to and think about events, rather than the events themselves’, he explains. ‘You can’t control the event, but you can control your response.’ 

To highlight this, Chris shares with us his own personal experience with the unexpected:

‘Three years ago, I had a tumour taken out of my head. My wife would say “I can’t believe how chilled out you are about all the risks”, and I’d say: I’m going to be under general anaesthetic for four and a half hours, I have no control over that - there’s nothing I can do about the risks”. 

Instead, Chris focused on what he could control: his thoughts and his response to the situation he found himself in. ‘There was no point wasting time thinking about it. What I could control was how I felt. I knew that the more positive I felt about it, the better the outcomes would be: if I was more relaxed, the surgical team would be more relaxed’.

Be more relaxed

When we focus on worrying about whether or not something will happen, it’s simply wasted time and energy, as Chris points out:

‘Business leaders get really wound up about things they can’t control, such as “will a second Covid spike occur?”. How much influence do you have over that? Absolutely none. Rather than fretting about it, think through what you would do if that were to happen. That helps build resilience. Instead of becoming emotionally drained, you focus on what you can do.’

Have a sense of purpose

When a crisis happens, it’s easy to get caught up in the drama and emotion of the situation, but Chris warns against this, and emphasises the importance of always focusing on action and purpose.

‘If you allow yourself to be emotionally wrapped up in a situation, it can become debilitating. That emotional downward trend is infectious and it can affect your whole team’.

"There’s nothing wrong with saying this is scary."

This isn’t the same as denying the problem or putting a falsely positive spin on things. As Chris says, it’s important to be authentic as a leader and openly acknowledge how worried you are, before addressing the situation with a sense of purpose. ‘There’s nothing wrong with saying this is scary’, he says, ‘and then it’s about working out how you can support each other across the team’.

How personal resilience translates to business resilience

‘The connecting rod between personal resilience and organisational resilience is built around the acronym CALM’, says Chris.

The first letter stands for compassion. As Chris highlights, when things go wrong, everyone reacts in a different way. ‘ A team is made up of different individuals: some will be gung ho, some terrified, some quietly anxious. As a leader, you need to take the time to understand where people are’.

Action-orientated is the next one’, Chris explains. Everyone feels more comfortable when there’s a sense of action. In a crisis, ticking off things that are easy to achieve gives people a sense of motivation and positivity’.

The L in CALM is for level-headed. Chris explains why this is important. ‘Taking the time to think and reflect, and using your team a bit more to help you do this, is a vital part of resilience in the face of a crisis’.

Finally, the M is for mindfulness. Chris believes that being mindful and kind to yourself as a leader is the foundation for resilience: ‘Even if you don’t feel like you need it, you must take time to stop, because inevitably you will need it’.

As with most aspects of leadership, business resilience begins at home. If you make sure you are physically, psychologically and emotionally resilient as an individual, you will become equipped to build resilience into your business. As Chris puts it: ‘You need to have the ability to cope with things personally, and once you have that, you can begin to effectively address the resilience of your organisation’.

A big thanks to Chris for taking the time to talk to us. If you want to learn more about how you can build resilience into your business, don’t miss Chris’ webinar on September 2nd.

Coronavirus Resource Centre

Images via Adobe Stock (kemirada) and Pixabay

Our gift to you...

Watch a recent Vistage webinar recording featuring the subject of this blog, Chris Paton.
Chris delivered his session "Business and Personal Resilience - How to Cope with an Uncertain Future" on Wednesday 2nd September 2020.

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