Leadership resilience

By Ana Costa

Business keeps moving faster in the face of recent sociopolitical, technological, and economic trends. The survival of an organisation during times of great uncertainty rely greatly on the ability of its leader to persist and persevere - in other words, in its capacity to demonstrate resilience. Leadership resilience is hard to learn - it not only requires the courage to confront painful realities but also the tenancy to carry on despite the feelings of hopelessness. Psychologists define leadership resilience as the leader’s “capacity to rebound or bounce back from adversity, conflict, failure, progress, and increased responsibility” (Journal of Management, 2007). A resilient leader recognises the need to take both proactive and reactive measures in the face of difficulty, placing a positive value on risk factors. He encourages an organisation to develop a broad repertoire of routines in order to better respond to complex scenarios by paying attention to certain types of experiences and improving particular capabilities that expand the action options. Furthermore, a resilient leader encourages its followers to think about their environment in ways that improve their ability to determine both the content and the duration of change. This leader recognises the need for flexibility, adaptation, and even improvisation in situations predominantly characterised by uncertainty (Journal of Management, 2005; 2007).

There is a strong correlation between a resilient leader and a transformational leader. The last presents four types of behaviours: idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration. These behaviours are sturdily important to create a solid relationship with followers and elevate them beyond their self-interests. A transformational leader fosters resilience through behaviours that increase positive affect, hope, and optimism. They own problem-solving abilities, favourable perceptions, positive reinforcement, and strong faith, inspiring followers with enthusiasm for accomplishing challenges (Journal of Group & organisation Management, 2016).

leadership resilience

A leader’s capacity for resilience is developed from a unique blend of cognitive, behavioural, and contextual capabilities and routines that can be learned and trained (Journal of Human Resource Management Review, 2011).

  • Cognitive resilience enables a leader to notice, interpret, analyse, and formulate responses in ways that go beyond simply surviving. They have an empowering interpretation of the world, a positive perception of experiences, realism, and a tolerance for uncertainty. A resilient leader encourages followers to look for opportunities to develop new skills rather than emphasize standardization and need for control.
  • Behavioural resilience enables a leader to follow a dramatically different course of action from that which is their norm. This happens because resilient leaders build a broad repertoire of action alternatives that are acquired through learning and experience. The toolkit of multiple actions increases the odds of success simply because there are more options available for consideration. Furthermore, resilient leaders have routines that automatically open communication channels, create interpersonal ties, and seek multiple sources of information when uncertainty increases.
  • Contextual resilience refers to the connexions and resources of a leader. It is composed of their interpersonal relationships that provide the interpersonal foundation for thriving despite uncertainty. This social capital is most effective when based on trust, allowing for access to broader information sources and expanded knowledge. Deep relationships build commitment and a sense of purpose that enables people to find meaning in uncertain situations. Finally, resilient leaders also have an unusual ability to get others to help them out. An ability to obtain resources externally promotes organisational slack. Beyond this, external resources are likely to introduce variety and diversity into an organisation.

Adversity and challenges can throw any leader off-balance, which can lead to cascading difficulties. However, a resilient leader is capable to respond effectively to these environmental changes, through a strategic repertoire of options and outcomes. Training for transformational behaviours effectively boosts leadership and followers affect and resilience. For example, leaders who seek team members’ ideas about how to deal with the crisis, who empathize with the stresses and strains experienced by team members, and who encourage followers to ask for assistance when needed may not only help team members, but also themselves, to constructively interpret current events and respond positively to uncertain events. In this way, positive spirals will emerge so that resilience spreads through the organisation.