Leadership and Management
The Resilience Factor in Leadership
Good leaders are resilient. They bounce back quicker from setbacks or adversity, and keep the team moving in the right direction. Resiliency is sometimes seen as the ability to cope with stress and life’s challenges, and to draw upon the emotional reserves that have been built up for the tough times.
Is resiliency an individual trait, or is it learned behavior? Most recent research shows that resiliency is a process that is the result of individuals interacting with their environments and the processes that promote well-being. Lessons taught in families, schools, and spiritual communities, help build a person’s skills to not only cope with stressful situations, but to recover quicker from adversity.
The American Psychological Association has discovered that several factors are found to modify the negative effects of adverse life situations. Strong relationships at home and work that provide care and support, create trust, and offer encouragement, are critical to developing resiliency. Additional factors are also associated with resilience, like the capacity to make realistic plans, having self-confidence and a positive self-image, developing communication skills and the capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses.
Why is resilience so important in leadership?
So why is this important in today’s world and more specifically in today’s business environment? There are several things to consider as we look at resilience. Research by Sidney Finkelstein, “Why Smart Executives Fail,” indicates that companies that lack the ability to adapt in the face of competition and shifting market cease to exist. As the world becomes more digital, we have lots of industries that have failed to deal quickly enough to market realities, including newspapers, music and books.
What causes a company’s inability to adapt, to be flexible, and to bend? Often leaders don’t make the right decisions when times get tough. Jim Collins in his book on “How the Mighty Fall” identifies resilience as one of the key factors in a leader’s skill set. Do we see what is happening around us as an opportunity to learn, listen, predict and grow or do we see new market and societal realities as a threat, a time to retreat, and just do the same thing, only harder?
How can leaders build their resiliency skills?
Unfortunately there is no class in business programs called Resiliency 101. Families, schools, business and life give us many opportunities to continually develop coping skills and resilience. A colleague who taught himself a good lesson in resiliency gave the example of freezing during a presentation while in a national team competition for MBA students. He did poorly, and it affected the outcome for the team. Initially he was devastated and struggled to overcome feelings of inadequacy. A few years later, as an international consultant, he had to give another important presentation and instead of caving to the memories that plagued him, he did an outstanding job on the presentation. When asked how he overcame those strong memories of failure, he talked about his journey of personal self-discovery and how he learned to handle challenges with a broader perspective. For this particular presentation, he made sure that he prepared well and took care of himself, by getting enough sleep, exercising and eating well, which helped keep him in balance and nurture a positive outlook to handle the presentation with a confidence that he had worked hard to build.
Being aware and consciously working through ways to cope with stress builds resilience. Strong leaders are very self-aware in general, and find ways to continue to build their resiliency skills. Coaching is a resource that can help leaders assess their ability to bounce back and adapt at work, and to continue to build the support needed to tackle the professional and personal challenges we all face in life.
This article was co-written by Mary Shippy and Leanne Smullen of Align Leadership.