June Blog - Nurturing Our Resilience As Leaders

2022 leaders May 31, 2022

From the small Hungarian village where my father was raised comes a folktale that might be one that has also been passed to you. It speaks of a man who was the woodcutter of that community. He supplied homes with wood to fuel their fires and to cook their meals. He was the best woodcutter the village had ever had and the people came to deeply rely on and care for him. The villagers knew that he worked hard on their behalf, so they urged him to take some time off – to rest, to rejuvenate. And yet, the woodcutter, knowing that he was incredibly important to the wellbeing of the village, persevered. However, over time, his productivity decreased. The joy that his work had previously brought him waned. And with each passing day, his tools – the axes and saws he used – became duller. Because he did not pause to rest his body and sharpen his tools, he could not maintain the quality of his work. 

For me, this folktale connects to resilience – a topic we explored several weeks ago with a group of over 300 leaders. The work of a leader, particularly in these times, can be exhausting. Of course, we need to pause and take physical and mental breaks. Yet those moments can seem very fleeting. So, how can we be refreshed through the work we do on a daily basis? How might leaders find different ways to rejuvenate and refuel? What can that look like in a day, a week, or a month that appears to offer little room to pay attention to ourselves? 

I invite you to consider some of the ideas we shared with those leaders a few weeks ago. Perhaps, in these ideas, you can make a connection to something that you already do or something that calls you to think more about. 

Be in community – One way that some find renewal and increased resilience is to be in community with those whom they serve. This is a place of great learning. There are books, articles, policies, and documents we need to read. There are also conferences and conversations with experts in which we need to engage. And yet, our best professional learning takes place in community when we walk alongside those whom we serve – students, teachers, and other leaders. It is an incredible fount of renewal when we listen, observe, share, co-plan, co-teach, and co-lead. Lucky for us, this is a renewable resource that will remain after the last page of a book has been read or the final word in a workshop has been spoken. 

Celebrate – Another way to build resilience is to celebrate. Let’s put a bit of a caveat on that – to recognize even the smallest of successes. We can wait for those big wins, however, what we might then miss are the smaller successes that can fuel and propel us forward more frequently. We can be relentless in our search for successes to celebrate – both for ourselves and for others. About this, as we celebrate those successes from our own work and the work of others. Motivation theory reminds us that success breeds success. So, we keep our eyes open for the small success that can be acknowledged and celebrated in order to nourish and fuel leadership. 

Re-focus on the compelling why – A habit leaders can build in order to cultivate resilience is to intentionally recall and talk about the “why” that sustains them ­­– their purpose. For some leaders, it might be observing students thrive, even in difficult and vulnerable situations. For others, it might be the interplay between the art, science, and craft of teaching and learning. And for others still, it might be building relationships with learners that last a lifetime. During these continued uncertain times, we can identify that which pulls us away from our passions – endless online meetings, health and safety protocols, or the writing of yet another email. When we think about our compelling “why”, it causes us to be filled the joy and remembrance of what brought us into this incredible profession. 

These are just three of the ideas we explored in our leadership session. I end this blog in the same way we ended the session, by inviting you to reflect on your practice.  How do you nurture your resilience and allow it to flourish? The response to that question varies from leader to leader and yet we all know that when energy is renewed, resilience is created. It is what equips leaders to take the necessary steps to prepare themselves for what lies ahead.