3 Ways to Promote Resiliency – How CEOs and Moms Can Be Better Role Models

What do many new leaders of growing companies and adolescent girls have in common? They are both facing demands that leave them overwhelmed, riddled with anxiety, and at risk for burnout.

My two teens girls are growing up in a world in which they are expected to excel in every dimension. They must win at academics and extracurriculars, but that’s not all — they must also have perfect bodies and be liked by everyone. The result, too often, is overwhelm, self-criticism, and anxiety. This sounds like a lot of emerging leaders I coach, male and female, on whom the demands are overwhelming and the expectations (both internal and external) are high. They must excel in all dimensions: be visionary and strategic, move fast, execute reliably, deliver results, communicate effectively, develop their people, demonstrate high EQ, and play nicely with others. These demands leave them with a pervasive sense of not being or doing enough. Senior leaders in their organizations would do well to take some advice from Rachel Simmons, author of “Enough As She Is,” who writes about helping adolescent girls cultivate self-compassion and resilience in the face of mounting expectations. She recently gave the following advice to moms on how to be a role model. Her guidance makes just as much sense for CEOs and other leaders:

1. Let your girls [teams] see you ask for help. No one can do it all alone – not a super-mom, nor a CEO, yet with the best of intentions we can all too often shoulder too much of the burden. This is not only bad for you, it also sets a bad example. Say what you will about CEO Jack Dorsey – last March, he was a great role model when he asked for outside help in addressing the state of discourse on Twitter: “We simply can’t and don’t want to do this alone. So we’re seeking help by opening an RFP process….” This public vulnerability and humility sent a powerful message. Although many companies tout a collaborative model, they should reinforce helping one another and make sure that everyone knows it’s okay to ask for assistance. Some side benefits of asking for help? It builds trust and deepens your bench strength.

2. Talk to them about your failures and how you are handling them. By now, it has become a cliche that failure is an essential step on the path to greatness. But what about run-of-the-mill failures where later greatness is not assured? In the privacy of 1:1 coaching sessions, many clients confess that they are terrified of failure. They need to build their failure muscles. Take the example of Sara Blakely, billionaire founder of Spanx, whose father routinely asked her “What did you fail at this week?” and high-fived her for her failures. Even better if he also shared his own missteps and how he was dealing with them so she could learn from his example. Talking about everyday failure normalizes it and provides an opportunity for learning. Consider each failure as a bicep curl for your resilience.

3. Model down-time. Take a break and rest. Number 3 may be the hardest advice to follow. As a mom who runs my own business, I try to wring every drop of productivity out of my day, and most of my client leaders are in the same boat. We may call it efficiency or optimizing, but really it’s a constant state of activity with no break. Yet studies show that resting boosts productivity. I’m not just talking about getting enough sleep or taking vacations, both of which are important. This is about small daily rituals of rest. Putting your feet up and closing your eyes for 5 minutes, or 20. Taking a walk on the beach – or around the block. Unilever has recognized the importance of rest and has put structures in place to support employee rest breaks (including recommending that if you want to nap, you do it between 2:00-3:00 and for no more than 30 minutes!)  Rest brings greater mental clarity and renews one’s emotional resources to decrease reactivity, and results in improved decision making (and being nicer to work with).

As a leadership coach and a parent, I am often struck by the ways that parenting advice applies to leadership and vice versa. Parents set the norms for families, and CEOs and executives set the culture for organizations. For your own sake and for the resiliency of your people, ask for help, share your failures, and rest.