Keeping positive as a senior leader in these challenging times

Sally Henderson is NDA’s monthly columnist discussing the pressures of leadership in our industry. Sally is an Executive Change Mentor with over twenty years’ experience.

These are uncertain times and unchartered waters. As a senior leader, especially in the creative industry, the stress levels for many folk are very high currently. And understandably.

However, there are many studies and research to show that the more you hold stress in your body then the less able and equipped you are to thrive through change. Why? Because stress induces cortisol as we all know. What I found interesting when listing to the great academic Dan Cable a few years ago was how higher cortisol in our systems shuts down our ‘Seeker System’. That innate curiosity and spirit of adventure that we need to think differently and create new ways of doing things.

When cortisol is high in your body then the natural reaction is to go narrow, deep, fixate and be ‘head down’. This is not helpful when we are having to operate in such changing times that require us to juggle even more plates than before and under even more pressure.

Instead, we need to be finding ways to boost the serotonin in our systems. The happy vibes. When we have more of this it is proven we are more playful, curious, brave and very importantly innovative. And if ever there was a time to innovate it is now!

All easy to write in an article I know but trust me there will be ways you can be supporting the serotonin in your system, in the systems of your employees and those you partner no matter which side of the agency/client fence you sit upon.

Here are a few of my top tips of advice and training I give to my clients all the time to help.

  • Become aware of the lens you are looking at your world through.

Are you half full or half empty right now? Do you even know? Whatever lens you are subconsciously seeing your world through will be colouring everything. So, take a moment to ponder on this and then make the active decision to keep your lens if it is working for you or change it if it is not. I kid you not the power of active decision making and stepping out of habitual subconscious ‘doing’ is amazing.

  • Now is the time to be super clear on your ‘north star’ your ‘why’.
    The more you are in tune with your professional purpose and the good you do in the world the more you will plug into your passion to overcome the obstacles in the way. How to do this? The first step is super simple. Write it down! If you can write it down in one simple smart statement you can live it and share it. If you can’t write it down effectively then neither can you live it, share it or deliver it. (If you can’t write it down yet then the more you access serotonin the more this will come I promise).
  • Don’t be a lone hero. All heroes and heroines have their buddies and tribe that enable them to put their super-powers to good use. Who are your tribe and are you in touch with them? Plan a rhythm of how you will check in on others over the coming weeks and months and also how you’d like others to check in with you.
  • It doesn’t have to be in-person to still feel connected.  We are a herd and we (well most of us!) need our herd around us to feel safe. Right now, our perception of this connection is being challenged. As a senior leader talk to your people about which method of connecting outside of face-to-face works best for those in your teams and get your team leaders to do the same. For some it will be visual, for others aural and others kinaesthetic so phone, Zoom or a thoughtful card in the post (obvs wash your hands before writing and posting it people!)
  • Smile. Yes, sometimes the key to accessing healthy positive emotion and feelings is to simply smile. The physical act of smiling triggers positive feelings in the body. Even if you aren’t feeling particularly positive. Don’t let the frown sit on your face instead turn it upside down (sorry couldn’t resist!).

Like all things the current situation will pass. We will evolve, learn and adapt. In addition to the stress, energy required and challenge of doing this as a leader there are also gifts awaiting on the other side of better ways of working individually and as a team, appreciating things that were previously taken for granted, seeing the power of a great culture when people pull together etc.

Keep the faith. You’ve got this!

Sally Henderson is an Executive Change Mentor specialising in working with senior leaders and owners in the creative industry to change, grow and drive forwards.

NB: Given these unprecedented times I am offering C-suite, senior leaders or business owners who wants a check-in free 30-45 minute Change Mentoring Conversations to support your leadership, well-being, resilience and business. Please email sally@sallyhenderson.co.uk if you think I can help.

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