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Want to support leader resilience? Start by normalizing the following words: 'I'm not OK.'

By Alexander Polyak

November 23, 2020

    Covid-19 has challenged the resilience of many leaders as never before. The pressures of the epidemic, both at work and home, are 24/7, and the traditional approach of self-resilience and self-care won't cut it anymore. We've spoken to executives who have seen some of their most experienced, resilient directors and managers unexpectedly hand in their resignation notices. That's why organizations need to step in and take a system-level approach to boosting leader resilience. We spoke to Jennifer Bickel, medical director of professional well-being at Children's Mercy Hospital, to learn how leaders at the hospital are modeling vulnerability and breaking the stigma around openly discussing the need for help through their new program: Leader Well-being Roundtables.

    Continue reading to learn more about Children's Mercy Hospital's approach to well-being, and then join us on Dec. 3 at 1pm EST for a discussion with Bickel and Jonathan Ripp, chief wellness officer at Mt. Sinai Health, about how workforce leaders can boost organizational resilience. Register here.

    Inside Leader Well-being Roundtables

    Across this past summer, Children's Mercy rolled out Leader Well-being Roundtables, a series of sessions where a handful of pre-selected senior leaders meet to discuss the emotional toll that the pandemic has taken on their work and lives. Bickel and a clinical social worker facilitate the sessions to help leaders reflect on their reactions and feelings to recent challenges. The sessions are broadcast live (with an average of 200 other leaders watching) but are not recorded. Due to the positive feedback to these large sessions, Children's Mercy now also offers smaller (non-streamed) Leader Well-being Roundtables several times a month. This allows leaders to participate in facilitated discussions with their peers about their own needs, struggles, and successes. 

    These sessions are not meant to serve as a tips-and-tricks session about building one's personal resilience. Instead, they are specifically designed to promote vulnerability—and normalize that it's "OK for leaders to not be OK." By encouraging senior leaders to discuss the everyday challenges that they face during the epidemic, both at work and home, they emphasize the shared experiences and difficulties that leaders face. Plus, by talking openly about seeking help, utilizing emotional support resources, and appreciating when a peer reached out to ask about their well-being, senior leaders can encourage more junior staff to emulate these positive behaviors. The feedback on the sessions has been overwhelmingly positive, with post-roundtable engagement surveys showing over 90% favorability.

    Breaking the stigma around saying 'I'm not OK' at your organization

    Leaders are first and foremost role models for their teams. That's why when leaders admit that they need well-being support, their staff are much more likely to follow suit. We've seen organizations do this in a variety of ways. Some organizations have encouraged executives to write all-staff emails where they share their personal struggles, successes, and joys during this epidemic—and they've received a deluge of emails back from staff who felt liberated by the ability to share their own experiences in return. Children's Mercy has even created a curated staff blog to share both stories and "survival tips" around common epidemic challenges, such as sharing a workspace with children. (In one blog post, an employee offered sage words: "Know that you will be good enough. And that is OK. Joint Commission is not coming to your house.")

    Try to experiment with what is most easily implementable in this time and space, and remember, just getting leaders to feel comfortable asking for help is an enormous culture shift and the basis for building an organizational approach to resilience.

    Webinar recording: How workforce leaders can boost organizational resilience


    Download the slide deck or watch the webinar recording of a discussion with Bickel and Jonathan Ripp, Chief Wellness Officer at Mt. Sinai Health, about how workforce leaders can boost organizational resilience.

    Watch Now

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