How do leaders develop resilience in the face of a crisis? Participants in a recent virtual panel discussion organized by Rise and Lead in partnership with Salesforce addressed this timely question. At the outset of the event, Ebere Akadiri, founder of Rise and Lead Women and Rise and Lead Summit, shared that she and members of the Salesforce team selected the webinar topic last December, even before the world was facing the current crisis situation.”
“Little did we know that the world was going to be thrown into a state of crisis and chaos,” Akadiri said before welcoming the panelists and guests to the May 12 event. It was the first virtual edition of the Rise and Lead Connect2Grow series.
Referring to one of her favorite books, Things Fall Apart by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, Akadiri addressed the fear and uncertainty everyone is facing. “Nobody knows the solutions or the answers, but we can come together. We can learn together how to manage the situation,” she said. Akadiri explained that the panelists would be sharing their own stories of resilience and how they have overcome uncertainties in their careers. Small group discussions would follow the main presentations.
Michiel van Vlimmeren, general manager of Salesforce in the Netherlands and a host of the event, shared his three steps for developing resiliency – stay close to yourself, stay close to your community and family, and stay close to your customers.
“There is no cookbook for times like these,” he said. “We must accept what has happened and take the learning forward… Define your future based on this learning, and then practice, practice, practice.”
Event moderator, Jennifer Eversen, senior director of Professional Services Benelux of Salesforce, then introduced Linda Aiello, the first panelist. Aiello is Executive Vice President of International Employee Success, Salesforce. Aiello shared how she developed resilience from two challenging times of her life, a time she referred to as “the best year of my life” and also the past nine months of her life.
Aiello recalled the life-changing lessons she learned from her father, both in her conversations with him as she was traveling early in her career and also in his last year as she cared for him as he faced pancreatic cancer. “During that course of that year, I really focused on the things that mattered and the things I could control,” she said.
“I built up a level of courage to say ‘no’ to the things that didn’t matter to me and that weren’t serving me.”
Aiello said she was later able to use this focus to boost her career. She shared that she achieved her recent promotion by “raising my hand” for new career opportunities. Although she admits she has failed at her childhood goal of becoming a starving artist, “I have trudged through, and there has been a super good outcome at the end.”
Remembering to take care of yourself during times of uncertainty was a key theme for the next panelist, Eva Heffernan, regional vice president, Commerce Cloud Benelux, Salesforce. As the mother of two young children and a professional handling two roles at Salesforce, Heffernan said, “I knew I was getting into trouble in terms of stress.”
When a close friend died suddenly, Heffernan explained that “there was nothing left” in her emotional tank to deal with the loss. “It took a lot of courage for me to stop for a while and then to walk back through the door and take up my role as a sales leader,” she recalled. She stressed that she learned the importance of taking self-care breaks and of saying ‘no’ when necessary to build up resilience.
Wendy Moree, Senior manager, ISV Solutions EMEA North, Salesforce, encouraged women in the webinar audience that motherhood need not put career aspirations on hold. She shared how she was not only able to survive the break-up with her partner when she was 37 weeks pregnant and then living in a caravan with her newborn but ultimately to thrive as a single mother with a new life and a new job in the Netherlands.
Moree offered five tips for developing resilience.
- Go outside every day.
- Tend to your social life, including show to keep and who to delete.
- Accept help when offered.
- Don’t defend yourself or apologize for yourself.
- When someone mistreats you, wish them well anyway.
“If you have a dream, you have to work with the changes and go for it,” Moree concluded.
Eversen then asked panelists to respond to two questions from audience participants. The first question was, how can women – especially women with young children who are working from home – develop resilience?
Moree and Aiello both shared the importance of building connections with other women and asking for their help. Moree said that the ability to “build a connection, to have a tribe” is a woman’s superpower.
The next question from the audience was “How can small business owners develop resiliency during a crisis?”
Once again, the speakers discussed the importance of developing a tribe and asking for help. Since some small businesses are thriving during the pandemic while others are struggling, the speakers emphasized the importance of helping members of your tribe.
“This is such a unique time,” Moree said. “If you build a reputation for compassion and for helping others, people will remember it in five years.”
Participants then broke into small discussion groups to share their personal stories of resilience. The webinar concluded after the small group facilitators summarized these discussions for everyone. The main themes of these more intimate discussions reflected the stresses of recent pandemic lock-downs and echoed the earlier theme of prioritizing self-care. Small group suggestions also included:
- taking the time for self-reflection, possibly with writing or another form of artistic expression
- getting enough exercise so that we tire out our bodies not just our brains as we work from home
- setting clear boundaries between work time and personal time
- maintaining connections with friends, families, colleagues, and clients
- focusing on what is important and not putting your life “on pause.”
Akadiri thanked all the participants and encouraged them to watch for upcoming information on the Rise and Lead Summit set for Sept. 24 and 25.
Ebere Akadiri is an accomplished entrepreneur and an advocate for women in leadership. Her passion to inspire others to achieve their goals drove her to found Rise and Lead Women along with her co-founder, Poonam Barua. Their mission is to inspire women to take the lead in closing the gender gap in workplaces and in business.