Faced with Adversity, Resilience in Leadership is Key

There is a typical response when a crisis occurs: “Nothing like this has ever happened before.”

Throughout history, mankind has endured – and risen above- many catastrophes. We learn from difficult experiences, and that new knowledge enables us to rise higher so we can effectively meet the next challenge that awaits us. And another one always will.

In her NY Times opinion piece The Best Response to Disaster is Resilience, Madeleine Albright, the first female US Secretary of State, recalls air raids, food rations, and flying bombs while growing up during WWII in England. The entire world was affected, people were uprooted from their homes, millions were killed, and countries were left in ruins.

Their stories of survival still astound us today. We wonder, how did they survive? Why?

Resiliency. Our ability to recover quickly from difficulties.

“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.”
― Steve Maraboli

Resilience Nurtures Positive Growth

The world is still reeling from the shock of the pandemic. Yet as blurred and uncertain as the future looks right now, our resilience to it is shaping our future.

Kevin Sneader and Shubham Singhal wrote in McKinsey & Company that the past can be a predictor of the future. Citing the financial crisis of 2008, McKinsey research discovered that in each sector, a small group of businesses did better than their peers. While all were affected by the crisis, the resilient ones recovered faster, and a year later, their earnings rose by 10 percent – while the non-resilient businesses earnings slid nearly 15 percent.

 Why? The resilient companies were better prepared for the financial crisis and took effective action during it.

Sneader and Singhal note that the virus may be the biggest challenge the world has faced since WWII. Instead of waiting until after the battle has been won, the authors urge business leaders to ask themselves what they are doing now.

How are you responding to the fallout from the pandemic? It’s not too late to build workplace resilience. A past Harvard Business article offers tips:

-Practice mindfulness – it helps job performance. Taking slow, deep breaths is key.

-Learn to have ‘step away’ breaks: just a few minutes can reset our energy and attention.

-Display compassion – for yourself and others. It increases happiness and decreases stress.

Resilient Leaders Have These Qualities

A small study done by British consultants Sarah Bond and Gillian Shaprio discovered that the biggest drain on a person’s resilience didn’t come from events such as bombings or other tragedies, but it was “managing difficult people or office politics at work.” Second to that was stress from too much work and being subjected to personal criticism.

Many other studies have investigated resiliency. Richard Farson and Ralph Keyes in “The Failure-Tolerant Leader” cite the need to treat setbacks and successes as both positive learning experiences. They suggest leaders engage at a personal level with employees, admit when they’ve made mistakes, and take a nonjudgmental approach when interacting with others.

Diane Coutu summed it up best in “How Resilience Works.” She states resilient people have 3 characteristics:

  1. Strong belief that life is meaningful
  2. Unique ability to improvise
  3. Firm acceptance of reality

Coutu explains that although we can recover from a hardship with one or two of those qualities, to be truly resilient, one must possess all three.

We might consider:

  • Instead of resigning to a situation, how well are we improvising and moving forward?
  • Are we treating the pandemic as a learning experience?
  • Are we continually practicing self-care?
  • How often are we mindfully listening to everyone’s suggestions, being compassionate – and stepping away frequently to reset our thoughts and energy?

“Resilience is very different than being numb. Resilience means you experience, you feel, you fail, you hurt. You fall. But, you keep going.”

 – Yasmin Mogahed

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Uncertain Times Call for BOLD Creativity in Leadership

Our world was thrust into mass uncertainty almost instantly.

Most of us didn’t even see it coming. As a result, mass panic and confusion reigned.

Yet values-based, authentic, and compassionate leaders will maintain their steady course and rise above and beyond this crisis to emerge stronger than before.

They already realize that this, too, will pass, and it will have been the catalyst to spark new thinking, bold ideas and truly, a new world.

“It is worth remembering that the time of greatest gain in terms of wisdom and inner strength is often that of greatest difficulty.”

-Dalai Lama

Calm Leadership During Uncertain Times

Mike Robbins, writing for Forbes, summed up leadership during uncertainty in a simple analogy.

When we are flying, there are times the plane experiences turbulence. Most times, the pilot announces beforehand that the plane will be experiencing a bumpy ride and asks the flight attendants to take their seats until they get through it.

As a result of his message, when we experience the turbulence, we (hopefully) are not panicked. We are reassured by the leadership of the pilot.

If he did not announce the expected bumpy ride, we would have white knuckles from gripping our armrests. (Ok, maybe some of us still might…)

Effective and authentic leaders follow this analogy in their careers – and especially during these unpredictable times. Like putting an oxygen mask on ourselves first – before our children – leaders need to be the pilot during confusing, uncertain times.

How can we come forth as authentic leaders in times of crisis? Robbins suggests:

  1. Integrate self-care. Not only for yourself, but also so you can show up as your best self for others.
  2. Maintain continual communication, a key in times of crisis to cultivate a cohesive team and a sense of community.
  3. Get personal. Bridge communication gaps by reaching people on a personal level, which shows your care and concern.
  4. Flex those mental muscles. Listen to everyone, be open to new ways of doing things. Don’t automatically say no.
  5. Let authenticity shine. When we lead authentically, we let others know we’re in this together and we WILL rise above.

The Mental Process of Authentic Crisis Leadership

During this time of crisis, we have already begun to see true leaders emerging. Take Jacinda Ardern, for example.

True leaders continually let the public know what is happening, they listen to bold, new, imaginative and innovative ways to do business, to educate and to live. They have vision – and holding.

What is holding? Gianpiero Petriglieri, writing in Harvard Business Review, describes holding as the way a person, usually an authority figure, contains and interprets what is going on during a crisis.

And what is containing? The ability to soothe distress and help others make sense out of a crisis. An effective leader will reassure his employees and inform them how the company can get through. The leader thinks clearly, reassures and guides everyone to bond together.

Petriglieri notes that while holding is not often recognized as a trait of leadership, as vision is, it is as essential. A study of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico revealed just that. As the company responded to and recovered from the crisis, top management had different reactions to the spill. While some lost faith in the company, others – those exposed to management who had upbeat messages – strengthened their commitment and resolve to the company.

For those working closely with one’s boss and fellow employees during the crisis, the response was more containing. It reassured employees about the company’s principles, integrity, and future growth.

“Being held as we work through a crisis, the study concluded, is more useful than being told how bright the future is.”

Leading and Moving Forward During Uncertainty

Leading with values-based leadership is a strong foundation for navigating through a crisis. Those values areas include:





Remember how crucial it is to continually communicate with your team. In a Forbes article, author H. V. MacArthur suggests the following topics:

  1. Acknowledge what you know – and what you don’t know.
  2. Share your thoughts about the current crisis in a calm, reassuring way.
  3. Describe your plans to make things better and ask for honest insight.
  4. Keep employees engaged; let them know what is needed from them.

What is, has been before. Authentic leaders realize this. And they will lead the way to a more effective and creative way of doing business.

“The future is uncertain…but this uncertainty is at the very heart of human creativity.”

-Ilya Prigogine

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Discover New Meaning During This Time of Dis-Ease

We were flung from our comfort zones and thrust into strange and unfamiliar territories. No more evening get-togethers, dining at our favorite restaurant with friends, or even quick trips to the gym and blissing out in yoga class.

That’s all coldly labeled now as non-essential, “risky” behavior in many parts of our world.

In its place, a new way of life is demanded from us: social distancing, shelter in place, and lockdowns in cities.

Our Collective Consciousness is Grieving

We feel uncomfortable. Empty. Lost. Alone.

And we’re grieving. Yes, grieving. Our world has changed. Grief expert David Kessler, who co-wrote “On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss” with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, says our sense of normalcy is gone.

“…the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively.

We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”

Kessler offers reassuring words. This too, shall pass. He’s learned from history that the steps we’re taking now, while uncomfortable, are what needs to be done. “This is a time to overprotect but not overreact,” he asserts.

And it’s a time to re-think – everything. Some employers are discovering that working from home may become integrated into their new norm; learning institutions are realizing that online learning can be efficiently done.

“One is never afraid of the unknown; one is afraid of the known coming to an end.”

~ Jiddu Krishnamurti


­­­­Changing the Old “It’s Always Been Done This Way’ Mentality

Americans work about an hour longer each day than their European counterparts: a third of Americans work more than 45 hours a week; about 10 million work more than 60.

Mark Wilson, writing in Fast Company about the global crisis, cited those statistics and asked a profound question: “How do we watch and educate our children while also clocking in the current 47-hour workweek?’

He proposes we don’t.

He cites more revealing data about the non-stop, 24/7 economy. More than half of US employees are hourly – working 8% more hours than in 1978 – but making only 11.6% more – even though they’re 6 times as productive compared to the 1970s. It’s called “The Productivity-Pay Gap” – meaning employee compensation hasn’t grown alongside corporate profits.

During this crisis, he wonders how can we work 40+ hours a week and teach our children too? How can we be there for them during this crisis, calming their fears, listening to their worries, and get our work done, too? How can we address our own needs in such uncertain times?

His answer was simple. We can’t.

Wilson says we need to slow companies down, no more business as usual. “We need to ask less of ourselves as professionals and less of each other as coworkers. It’s time to phone it in, literally and figuratively, to both protect our world and nurture the next generation.”

Learning to Let Go of Status Quo & Let Change Happen

It’s human nature to resist change, to keep the same old ways. Yet to grow, to do things in a better way, means we must learn to embrace change.

And now, during these chaotic times, thinking outside the box is key to not only getting through these challenging times, but soaring above – and doing things in a better way.

Yes, this is a time where we must challenge the status quo, to re-define how we do things and to come into greater alignment with our own core values.

World events have forced just about every one of us to step outside of our comfort zones – and though disconcerting, we also know that’s when profoundly impactful, lasting change can happen.

How can you, as a leader, go forward and challenge the status quo? Stacey Engle offers 3 suggestions:

  1. Encourage and invite all. Inclusivity brings fresh inspiration.
  2. Ask questions. Why isn’t something working? Engaging with your employees can lead to more meaningful insight.
  3. Be prepared to assist change – keep an open mind. Don’t automatically say ‘no.’ Be radical. Stay curious.

Remember, no one has all the answers. This is a collective journey we’re on. A good leader learns to listen loudly – put ego out of the way – and let success blossom.

Find Meaning in the New “Normal”

Undoubtedly, our lives are different.

But slowly, some of us may begin to realize that we have time now for things we always said we never had time for before – in our ‘old’ lives. Time with our children. Walking the dog. Reading. Discovering new hobbies. Working around our homes.

We can use technology to connect with family and friends, so we can still feel a sense of connection, if only virtually. And we can learn to have more compassion.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”


Let’s always remember to be kind to ourselves, too. When we’re kind to ourselves, we’re kinder to others. And the world needs kindness and compassion, not only now, but always.

What if the “new” and uncertain that lies ahead has gifts we haven’t even begun to unwrap yet?

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