Being a Resilient Leader

What Does it Mean to Be Resilient as a Leader? The dictionary suggests that “resilience” means “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties” or in perhaps more simple terms “the toughness of an individual in the face of challenges or even setbacks”. It is therefore very much a personal quality that predisposes individuals to “bounce back” or keep going in the face of particular obstacles. Resilient leaders, on the other hand, need to do more than merely bounce back personally, mainly because they don’t just have themselves to deal with but the people they are leading too. Some leaders are more naturally resilient as a basic part of their personality (or perhaps the way they have been brought up), while others less so. However, resilience is a learnable “mind-set” or attitude for everyone to adopt and to do it well we need to be aware of what resilient behaviors look like in practical terms. In the list that follows are therefore five key behaviors that all resilient leaders demonstrate regularly:

1. They engage in deliberate personal re-energization/re-vitalization on a regular basis Resilient leaders seek to revitalize themselves physically, emotionally and mentally on a frequent basis (every day) to keep the personal batteries charged and their energy high. They therefore pay close attention to work-life balance issues, take advantage of good coaching and external advice when they face important decisions and take time for reflection when a future course of action is complex. This effort to maintain high personal renewal then generates the energy leaders need to tackle demanding or high pressure work, whenever necessary.

2. They create the most positive working climate possible Resilient leaders listen to people, in emotionally intelligent ways, and then choose their words carefully to take account of the input and in order to create the most positive climate possible so that employees at all levels feel they can do their best work and contribute in the most efficient and effective ways. This open and empowering climate allows employees to ask questions (without any fear of criticism), admit that they may need more information (and are given the time to do the research) and to even challenge decisions (respectfully) when they believe a better outcome might be achieved by a different course of action.

3. They demonstrate optimism about the future as much as possible It’s long been known that employees like to follow a leader who is optimistic or who has a strong and positive belief in the future (after all, who wants to follow any leader who feels pessimistic that the future will be better than the past!). However, resilient leaders need to maintain their optimism even more strongly in times of difficulty or adversity (and sometimes for long periods of time). This requires considerable strength of character to keep calm (and avoid panicking at all costs), stay focused (on what is most important) and provide clear direction to help people to re-group and get back on track.

4. They build strong networks and alliances Resilient leaders continually look to build strong networks and alliances, not only with individuals at all levels inside the organization, even when they are in other teams, but with external suppliers, customers and other individuals who can provide valuable help and support when the going gets tough and a leader may need all the help that he or she can get. Of course, this works in both directions and a resilient leader is always willing to give support as well as ask for it when needed.

5. They are open-minded and think laterally whenever necessary Resilient leaders are as open-minded as possible, asking questions frequently and doing as much as they can to avoid dogmatism and potential group-thinking. They therefore seek multiple perspectives on important issues and seek information from many sources so that there is considerable scope to think in new and “lateral” ways whenever the need arises. This capacity to “re-frame” an issue or challenge or see the challenge in a new or different way is one of the keys to being able to be resilient. Summary Resilience as a general attitude is neither quick nor easy to develop. However, the more that any given leader can develop it, or at least evolve it further, the better. Not only does this lead to “bouncing back” from a setback more quickly but it means that the leader is more likely to see the opportunity to “re-think” or “look anew” that the setback has provided. This will mean that the resilient leader can then quickly provide new goals for his or her team members to pursue (which allow them to go over, around or under the setback in some way) and thereby demonstrate that obstacles are only challenges to be overcome, and not difficulties to be stoically borne until they (hopefully) go away.

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