Resilience … in Leadership and Management

The belief that leaders have the endless stamina, ideas, and skills it takes to deliver success year after year is a fallacy of the past … and more evidently so in these difficult modern times. Thus, resilience … the ability to bounce back, cope, renew, and revitalise … is becoming much more a focus for leaders in all walks of life.

In addition, to lead at any level in the organisational arena of the 21st century necessitates much more, including continuous development of potential [of yourself and others], highly effective utilisation of resources [which are becoming scarcer in a ‘more for less’ climate], and both mental and emotional clarity [about your own role and contribution and the part they play in the overall success of your organisation].

Therefore the requirement to lead well and to deliver results … real outcomes and real impact … whilst working within the public, private and voluntary sectors has never been more challenging. Thus, delivering and sustaining achievement now requires leadership that engenders a pervasive state of well-being, of which building and sustaining resilience is a key component.

Jerry Patterson, Ph.D.[1], an author and educational leadership professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham [], has researched and written extensively on resilience, identifying four characteristic leadership styles. The one most suited to this modern environment would appear to be that he terms ‘the realistic optimist’. He identified six strengths of a leader who is a resilient, realistic optimist:

1) Resilient leaders work to understand what is happening because of the adversity, including how they may have contributed to the adversity.

2) They are positive, believing good things can happen, within the constraints posed by the reality, and that they can play a role in making them happen.

3) They are anchored in their core personal and organisational values, staying focused on what’s important rather than allowing adversity to knock them off course.

4) They are persistent in tough times. They recover quickly from setbacks and celebrate small victories along the way.

5) They invest their physical, mental emotional and spiritual energy wisely, knowing when and how to build in recovery time so their energy isn’t drained.

6) They act on the courage of their convictions. They take decisive action when adversity strikes and the stakes are high. Their courage largely comes from being clear about what matters most.

Based upon my observations of a range of front-line and middle managers over the past 20 or so months in particular, Patterson’s words ring true! Those that demonstrate greater resilience mirror many of his observations and, in addition, are often able to manage change at the micro-level well.

So, on reflection, if you think or feel that this is an arena that needs further consideration in your own life and work, maybe you need to think through:

  • How effective you are at decision-making, especially delegating and saying NO;
  • How well you adapt to and manage personal, team and organisational change;
  • What is the balance between your transformational and transactional leadership styles;
  • What is your predominant style of emotionally intelligent leadership;
  • How well-developed are your influencing and negotiating skills; and,
  • Despite the climate and pressures upon and around you, are you continuing to invest in your own personal and professional development?

A final key area of reflection, underpinning many of these other considerations, would be how well you learn and how well you use your most effective learning dimensions to build your own continuing professional development?

John Thurlbeck – 19th January 2011

[1] Patterson is co-author of the book “Resilient School Leaders: Strategies for Turning Adversity Into Achievement” (2005)

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