Resilient leadership and what it actually means

Published: 16th July 2021

Resilient leadership and what it actually means

Maria Bramall, Office Managing Partner for South Yorkshire at Brewster Partners, who holds ILM Level 7 Executive Coaching and Mentoring and IPD Certificate in Training and has delivered leadership and resilience training throughout her recent career, looks at resilience, leadership and what it can all mean for you and your business.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, ‘resilience’ is often referred to in relation to high performing and tenacious individuals, teams and businesses.

With life thankfully now returning to some sort of normality, some organisations have moved from crisis, survival and recovery mode to planning for economic recovery in the months ahead. All the while the importance of resilient leadership is still being written and spoken about.

Living through a real global crisis has made it clear that resilient leaders are a huge benefit to businesses and can be the difference between companies taking quick, clear action that helps them to survive and failing to do so with adverse results.

So, what exactly is a resilient leader?

Oxford Languages defines resilience as ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness’. Talking about resilient leaders therefore refers to individuals who are able to swiftly recover after being presented with challenges in the workplace and work through the challenge to return things to the status quo as quickly as possible.

Resilient leaders see failures as temporary setbacks they can bounce back from and learn from.

Resilient leaders are quick to take action and are able to think and act independently without first having to receive feedback from everyone around them. They’re able to make decisions when under enormous amounts of pressure and put in motion remedial actions swiftly.

The importance of caring for others is frequently underestimated in relation to other regularly documented traits of leadership. Having the capacity to form bonds and attachments with others in the workplace has been shown to increase the ability to recover from failure and disappointment and ensure trust in team relationships.

Participants at an Institute of Management Development (IMD) discovery event took part in a questionnaire on grit – that human quality which forms a large part of resilience. Grit is defined as extreme focus on goals and loyalty for passions; the level of grit in an individual is one of the strongest predictors of success in both personal and professional tasks. The questionnaire asked ‘How much between 0-100% should you care about your employees?’ Answers were varied but it was shown that 100% is the level of care that high performing leaders demonstrate. Despite some participants concerns over attachment to team members, those leaders at 100% ensure they care, but also know where their role ends and where those boundaries of care lie.

How can you become a resilient leader? 

Whilst some people are naturally more resilient than others, it is absolutely possible to adapt and become a more resilient individual and leader.

Characteristics of a resilient leader include:

1: Excellent communication

Resilient leaders tend to be powerful and effective communicators who let their teams and other leaders know of their intentions and reasoning behind them. These individuals are able to communicate in an authoritative way that others respond to, take note of and don’t find abrasive, aggressive or over the top.

2. The ability to adapt

When faced with a setback or challenge, resilient leaders focus on the things they can do as opposed to the things they cannot do. In an ever changing world and business landscape, the ability to be flexible, adaptable and to offer solutions based on whatever new challenge crops up is invaluable.

3. A positive mindset

Leaders with a positive mindset are able to influence their colleagues and teams to help raise morale and keep momentum working towards solutions. Resilient leaders know that setbacks are inevitable and find a way to welcome the lessons they bring.

4. Open to coaching and feedback

Resilient leaders are open to receiving feedback and using this to help improve both their own performance and the performance of their team. They will also be motivated to continuously improve their own skills, performance and abilities in order to become a better leader and be more valuable to their organisation.

5. Empathetic to others

Leaders who can be empathetic to those around them build relationships with their team, which in turn fosters high levels of engagement. When team members feel as though they are understood, they’ll feel more motivated and more confident in their ability to contribute opinions, solutions, questions, ideas and debate.

6. Willing to take calculated risks and champion change

Taking calculated risks based on the data available and moving forward with this confidently is a vital part of being a resilient leader. Equally, so is the ability to recognise if a decision is no longer working and to then make a different decision and move in another direction.

How do you instil resilience in your team or your business?

Being a role model for resilience is one of the best ways a leader can demonstrate the benefits of this mind-set to their team. A big part of helping a team become more resilient is by actively displaying all of the values of a resilient leader so colleagues can see the positive impact this brings. Learning to lead yourself is vital before being able to lead others successfully.

Being attuned to the resilience of others also helps and will mean a leader is able to recognise when a team member is under stress or struggling. This could be characterised by negativity, poor communication, anger, lateness or anything else. When leaders notice this in their team members, the next step is to have the ability to reach out and engage in an honest discussion about how they can be supportive and help to alleviate this.

Resilient leaders will be those who are able to stay calm, make positive decisions and come up with solutions to help their business pivot when required.


This article is featured in UP Magazine Issue 10

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