Mindset and resilience in leadership

25 November 2020

By Sarah Knight

Mindset and resilience in leadership

MD of Sarah West Recruitment, Sarah Knight was thrilled to speak at November’s NatWest Boost event that focused on Leadership Through Lockdown & Beyond.

Anyone who knows Sarah, will know that she’s partial to a sporting challenge and has taken part in some pretty tough ones over the years – culminating in her toughest two in 2019 – completing The Scilly Swim and The Ride Across Britain.

Having the right mindset and resilience to take on events like these is absolutely key to success and there are valuable lessons that she’s learned, that she now applies in her role as a business owner and leader too. ​

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Here’s a snippet of what she shared at this event:

Over many years of signing up for various challenges, I’ve come realise that I like those that require endurance, where you’re challenged over several days. The events have got bigger and harder and last year I surpassed myself with a 16km sea swim and a 1,000-mile bike ride, in nine days.

While of course there are many highs from doing these, I’ve equally had some of my darkest times, as no matter how much preparation you do, there will always be things that you can’t plan for – like what the weather’s going to throw at you or how you’re going to feel when you actually take part.

I remember the shear panic during the swim of not being able to see land, my fellow swimmers or safety boats, even though I knew they were there. Again, during the bike ride, after three glorious days of sunshine, the final 6 days were full of rain, headwinds and quite frankly pretty dangerous conditions. The last day was the closest I’ve ever been to not reaching the finishing line. However, I was determined not give up, I knew I was physically fit enough, the battle was in my head.

Sporting images
Every year Sarah takes on a sporting challenge

2020 was due to be my ‘year off’ from endurance events however, circumstances have dictated otherwise – just not in a way I could ever have predicted! I’ve approached the last few months very much like I have my sporting challenges and applied what I’ve learned from them, to my work life, to make sure I have the right mindset in order to be the best leader I can, for my business and my team.

Here are three things I’ve learned:

Choice

You always have the opportunity to check that the goal you’ve set yourself or the path you’re on is still the right one for you. Do you still want to achieve it? Is it still a goal you want to reach? Is it still in line with who you are and do you need to do this now?

I find this makes me feel more empowered, I feel stronger, it reconnects me to my goal and I feel reenergised to carry on. It also helps me quash or change any feelings of panic or anxiety I might be having.

I took some time in March to make sure I’d ‘got the fight’ for the months ahead and that running a business was still for me. Of course, it didn’t take me long to know that it was absolutely the right thing however I felt reconnected to my goal of running a successful business and to my role as the leader.

It will end

Sporting challenges will have an end and I tell myself that what I’m feeling at that moment isn’t going to last forever – which is true of most things in life – most things are temporary.

Whilst in March it was hard watching a lot of our business disappearing as organisations paused their immediate recruitment activity – and despite all of the uncertainty – that’s exactly what I told myself and believed that these circumstances would not last forever.

Distract or reframe

I’ve found distraction’s a great way to change your mindset. On the bike ride we’d sing, normally about things around us like mountains or rain, which invariably ended up with a lot of laughter. We also practiced ‘extreme gratitude’, for example I’d be grateful that I’d spent a few extra pounds on a decent jacket that was keeping warm, or that I’d invested in a decent bike that meant I was the most comfortable I was ever going to be on a saddle for nine days.

Equally reframing the situation helped too. I was raising money for Hospiscare that supports people with a terminal diagnosis. I was fit, healthy and lucky to be able to take part in such a challenge.

Earlier this year, I was confident that our work would come back (which thankfully it has), so I looked at the quieter time as an opportunity – looking at our internal systems and processes, training and development for the team and putting some structured plans together around our growth aspirations.

These are just some of the techniques that I’ve found have helped me deal with and adapt to the change of work-circumstances – I’d love to know what works for you.

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