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Rubber Balls make Great Leaders

Well, maybe they don't -- but they do have one essential characteristic in common. Find out what it is, and how it can make you a remarkable manager (and a happier one, to boot!).Try this: find a rubber ball, an egg, and a small child. Take the child outside and ask him or her to drop both the ball and the egg on the sidewalk. Which one makes the child happier -- and keeps him or her busy for longer?

You already know the answer: it's the ball. The egg cracks in the first round; the ball keeps bouncing back. Like rubber balls, the best leaders are the ones who "bounce back" no matter what surface they're "dropped" on. This quality is called resilience, and it's essential both to good leadership and to lifetime happiness.

Why Resilience Matters in Leadership

What is resilience? The American Psychological Association defines resilience as "the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress" -- including stress in the workplace.

That's not to say that resilient people don't experience distress, fear, or anger. They do. What makes a leader resilient is not which emotions they experience, but how they choose to address those emotions and respond to the situation that gives rise to them.

"Resilience" is the ability to respond effectively to a disruption or conflict. Leaders who cultivate resilience find it easier to maintain perspective in a crunch. They can act effectively because they are not reacting; they're taking the moment as it comes, rather than responding from anger or fear. From settling a conflict between staff members to managing a major business crisis, resilient leaders have an advantage because they're focused on what is, not what should be.

Resilient leaders are: better able to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out, more confident in their abilities and better able to motivate their teams,better at communicating and problem solving, and better able to manage strong feelings and impulses.

What's more, studies show that resilience doesn't just make people better leaders in the workplace: it also makes them happier. Resilience leads to better abilities to make healthy choices, stay connected with supportive loved ones, pursue their most passionate life goals, avoid repeated mistakes, and maintain perspective in the face of adversity. Who doesn't want that?

Building Resilience: Getting Your "Bounce" Back

How can business leaders build resilience? Try employing these three tips:

Be present at the scene of a conflict. Fear, frustration, and anger make it difficult to be present when a disruption occurs. Instead of focusing on the events unfolding in the present moment, the fearful or angry brain reverts to patterns it carried out when facing disruption or conflict in the past.

When disruption occurs, focus on being mentally as well as physically present. Take a few deep breaths and listen carefully to those involved in the conflict -- even when listening is tough, or it feels like an attack. Staying present helps you lead by example and maintain the resiliency needed to spot the best opportunity to resolve the crisis.

Face the facts. By practicing being present, leaders improve their ability to tackle another essential element of resilience: facing the facts, no matter how difficult, awkward, or scary they feel. Resilient leaders are realistic about the facts facing them, and optimistic about their ability to find a way out. Be willing to acknowledge what is actually happening, but preserve your confidence that there is a good answer available.

Know yourself. Naturally, being present and able to take the facts as they are requires you to understand yourself well: the things that disturb and frighten you as well as the things that comfort and calm. When you know where your own fear or anger is likely to be "triggered," you can stay one step ahead of these reactive emotions, allowing you to stay present and focused.

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