Resilience for Housing CEOs – the art of thinking accurately

Lubna Haq | 3 May 2024

What motivates a person to be a housing CEO in a turbulent, highly regulated sector and one which can often feel like an exhausting and thankless job? It’s an interesting question and one that Lubna Haq shines the spotlight on here.

When talking to CEOs in the housing sector, we hear a variety of responses such as a deep sense of purpose and a desire to make a difference in the world. Sometimes they talk about a competitive drive and the opportunities to be at the cutting edge of technology. Some are candid enough to share that it demonstrates the pinnacle of their personal achievement and it’s for the prestige and status of being at the top of the organisation. Ultimately, its likely to be a combination of factors but whatever the reason, the real question is, what makes some CEOs outstanding given that by this stage, their skills and knowledge will be similar?

It takes resilience to rise to the top
Regardless of whether it is today or 40 years ago, everyone needs resilience because one thing is certain. Life is full of adversities. More than 60 years of scientific research has powerfully demonstrated that resilience is the key to success at work and satisfaction in life. Where you fall on the resilience curve determines how happy and successful you will be in life. Controversial? Psychological claptrap? Not at all.

We all know resilient people, we find them inspiring. The most resilient leaders we have worked with, seek out new and challenging experiences because they have learnt that struggle and pushing oneself to the limits expands their horizons. They understand that ‘failures’ are not an end point. They learn from what has gone wrong. They think very differently to many of us.
In almost every deep dive interview with an outstanding CEO, similar themes emerge around what makes them ‘tick’. Of course, it’s a given that they have the skills and capabilities to do the job well. Beyond this, they seem to have found a way of galvanising themselves and tackling problems thoughtfully, thoroughly and energetically. They don’t let anxiety and threat overwhelm them. They handle problems with integrity and grace. Not everyone can do this. And so, people who can, stand out.

What does the science say
In 1955 Emmy Werner and Ruth Smith, two eminent psychologists, conducted a landmark study based on the tropical island of Kauai, in the Hawaiian chain. 698 children were tracked from their prenatal months to beyond their 30th birthdays. The goal was to determine why some thrive and others don’t, despite very similar experiences of having the odds stacked against them: poverty, poor education, health and family life, addiction, and social deprivation. For the majority, the circumstances of early childhoods had robbed them of their resilience, and they were set on a downward trajectory. However, one in every three developed into confident and accomplished adults, going on to succeed in their lives. What were these children able to do?
They overcame early obstacles, steered through ongoing adversity, bounced back from trauma and had enough resilience to reach out for life’s adventures and new experiences. Similarly, what outstanding CEOs share is the way they manage their thoughts and emotions to power their behaviour. Cognitive therapy developed by Dr Aaron Beck in the 1960s focused on helping people to change their thinking to overcome life hurdles. Our successful leaders do this naturally. They think accurately.

They know that it’s not what happens to us but how we respond to what happens that has the greatest impact on the success of the organisation:

• They call on their career experiences of challenges and what they have learned from setbacks, and then do something differently.
• They are not fazed by making tough (and often unpopular) decisions in high stress environments.
• They are adaptive leaders who can quickly assess changing situations, make necessary adjustments and guide and coach their people.
• They have a clear vision and purpose, and this gives them the strength to keep going in pursuit of the bigger picture.
• They are emotionally intelligent allowing them to understand and manage their own emotions as well as those of others. This enables them to maintain composure, build relationships and navigate interpersonal challenges.
• They are agile decision makers. They view setbacks as an opportunity to learn, grow, experiment, and evolve strategies in response to feedback, data and changing circumstances.
• They have a good network and invest in strategic partnerships and innovation.

What does this mean for their workforce

So how can our successful leaders enable others to be more resilient and overcome adversity thus helping the workforce to be more effective under stress.

• Resilience can be learnt. We shouldn’t underestimate the benefit personally and financially to investing in resilience training for all and provide tactics, techniques, and resources to cope with adversity. The critical learning here is how to think accurately and adapt one’s behaviour accordingly.
• Maintain transparent communication and be honest about the challenges and responses being developed.
• Boring although it may seem, its critical to develop robust crisis plans and regularly review these.
• Focus on the core values as the bedrock of everything the organisation does. These guiding principles can provide purpose and direction.
• Always demonstrate empathy and compassion and take time to listen, validate feelings and offer support.
• Leverage diversity of perspectives and skills. Encourage collaboration and teamwork so people are better equipped to navigate complex challenges.
• Focus on solutions with the emphasis on identifying opportunities rather than dwelling on setbacks.
• Realise the importance of self-care for everyone and role model expectations.
• Encourage people to ask for help and seek support.

In summary, CEOs achieve peak performance by putting the right infrastructure in place: vision, mission, purpose, strategy, financial management. Those that are outstanding remain resilient in the face of adversity, communicating effectively and leading by example with both their workforce and their customers. They are confident and bold to make decisions and take risks. They are flexible and adaptive and stay ahead of the curve at all times. Finally, they think accurately and understand that it is up to them to change their thinking, reactions and behaviours to situations. As Henry Ford said, “If You Always Do What You’ve Always Done, You’ll Always Get What You’ve Always Got”.

Learn more about how we’ve enabled the development of resilience in leaders, alternatively email Lubna Haq (Director) Leadership consulting, lhaq@nscg.com.

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