Are you a realistic optimistic leader?

In a growing world of complexity, leaders increasingly need to develop their resilience.

Golden Gate BridgeIn today’s article, I define what I mean by resilience, and identify six strengths or traits that underpin a leader capable of rebounding.

So what is resilience?

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.  Even more 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.

Also, to lead at any level in the organisational arena of the 21st century necessitates much more. Continuous development of potential [of yourself and others], better utilisation of resources [becoming scarcer in a ‘more for less’ climate], and both mental and emotional clarity [about your role and contribution] are all necessitated.

Therefore, to lead well and deliver results, real outcomes and real impact, while working within the public, private and voluntary sectors has never been more challenging. Increasingly, a leadership approach which has a pervasive state of well-being, of which building and sustaining resilience is an essential component, is expected.

The most resilient leader ~ the realistic optimistic

Jerry Patterson, PhD [1], an author and educational leadership professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham [http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/530570], 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:

Understanding adversity

Resilient leaders work to understand what is happening because of the difficulty, including how they may have contributed to the trouble.

Being optimistic and positive

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.

Driven by core personal and organisational values

They anchor themselves in their core personal and corporate values, staying focused on what’s important rather than allowing adversity to knock them off course.

Being persistent

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

Growing self-awareness and self-sustainment

They invest their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energy wisely, knowing when and how to build in recovery time so their energy does not drain away.

Being courageous

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

What does this mean for you?

Based on 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 identified strengths and, also, are often more able to manage change at the micro-level well.

So, on reflection, if you think or feel that this is something you need to consider further in your life and work, maybe you need to think through things. Here are some questions to guide your deliberations:

  • 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 critical area of reflection, underpinning many of these other considerations, would be how well do you learn and how well do you use your most active learning to build your continuing professional development?

The article is a rework of a post by John Thurlbeck, first published on 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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