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Leading through Change

Successful leaders at all levels in the organization can embrace change with resilience, adaptability, and mindfulness

When you step into a leadership position, you are accepting the responsibility of guiding others through challenges as you face them head-on. As we look forward to the future of work post-COVID-19, change is inevitable, which inherently brings challenges with it, making any leadership role more difficult to navigate. Becoming resilient to such change will allow you to lead effectively even in the most challenging circumstances. And the key to such resilient leadership is mindfulness.

Defining Mindfulness

There are four factors that makeup mindfulness (also known as emotional intelligence): self-awareness, self-regulation, social-awareness, and social-regulation. These factors combine to form a more powerful, empathy-based mindset that produces two qualities: resilience and adaptability. Resilience is the ability to meet change and challenges without faltering, and adaptability is the ability to adjust your mindset, goals, and processes accordingly. With both, you are free and able to realize that one way is no longer working, let it go, and move forward to find and implement a new way, accepting and embracing change.

Embracing Change

That, however, is the hard part. Many people are afraid of change, even when it is good because it is unknown and also comes with the risk of loss. Tiffany Andras-Myers, instructor of Georgia Tech Professional Education’s newest professional certificate Emotional Intelligence and Resilience, draws from her background in ecology and evolutionary biology to connect this common fear to the biological history of the human brain. Our brain is wired for survival, and, over the many centuries of existence, it has learned to be wary of change, because change makes survival uncertain.

So, ironically, our survival instinct often blocks us from our most vital ally for survival in times of stress.

This change-aversion can be overcome, however. In order to embrace change, we must increase our resilience.

Building Resilience

Resilience exists on a range from zero to one hundred, zero being the most comfortable of circumstances, and one hundred being the most uncomfortable. Each person has a limited range between these two extremes in which they are able to function. For example, many people may be functional only between zero and thirty; that is their “zone of resilience.”

Think how much more could they achieve if their zone expanded to zero to sixty, or zero to seventy-five.

Mindfulness allows you to expand your zone of resilience and widen your scope of leadership capability. “It’s not that change stops happening, or that the unexpected nature of constantly evolving technology or global economies stops,” says Andras-Myers, “but rather that change no longer shakes us to our core in such a way that we can’t rapidly change with it.”

Becoming a Habit

The key to learning mindfulness and building resilience is to accept stress. In life, and especially in leadership roles, stress is unavoidable. However, you can train your brain to channel stress in a positive way. There are many ways to practice mindfulness, but one option is as simple as pausing to take a few deep breaths.

In every challenging moment, take a moment to slow down, connect consciously to your emotions, and think rationally about the big picture in order to come to a more constructive reaction.

Over time, this conscious effort will become a habit, due to the natural brain function, “what fires together, wires together.” Your brain will literally begin to wire connections from your reptilian brain, where stress originates, to your prefrontal cortex, where you make logical, rational decisions. You will learn to regulate your own nervous system in stressful situations, and, in time, your brain will simply become better at stress, making you a more resilient, adaptable, and dependable leader.

Affecting Change

As a mindfulness coach, Andras-Myers helps her clients, some of whom are CEOs of large businesses, integrate this mindset into their professional lives, producing a positive impact on each of their organizations. “It is profound and beautiful to see these people at the absolute top of their companies come to our conversations,” she remarks. These conversations promote happiness, and that happiness spreads to the employees, which leads to company success. “If the leadership embodies mindful awareness and well-being,” Andras-Myers explains, “it’s like being able to wrap their arms around the whole organization.”

If you'd like to learn more about how mindfulness can increase your resilience and adaptability to help you become a better leader, consider enrolling in Georgia Tech's Emotional Intelligence and Resilience Certificate.