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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