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Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Secrets of Resilient Leadership: When Failure is Not an Option

When faced with adversity, leaders can get caught up trying to manage their own stress. In the worst cases, such as the demise of Enron or the fiasco after Hurricane Katrina, they become so concerned for their own position that they jeopardise the entire operation.

The authors of The Secrets of Resilient Leadership: When Failure Is Not an Option.Six Essential Characteristics for Leading in Adversity remind us of a simple fact -

Resilient leadership is not only about how well you survive, it is about helping others rebound. The true test of leadership, they point out, is how well others follow.

“Although a leader may have the vision and courage to lead, he must do so in a way that followers respond to”, they say. The prerequisites for this are trust and devotion. Leaders must act with “bold and decisive action built on honour and honesty.”

These are basic qualities that most leaders are already aware of, even if they do not always exhibit them. The strength in this book is in the authors’ ability to break down these abstract concepts into concrete, achievable steps. 

The book is structured on their top six components of resilient leadership:

(1) Acting with integrity. Bold, decisive action is not enough; it must come from integrity. Integrity inspires trust, trust enhances a sense of safety, and safety helps fulfil the most fundamental need—survival.

(2) Communicating effectively and honestly. There is no such thing as an information vacuum—if you don’t talk, others will.

(3) Using the power of decisiveness, optimism, and self-fulfilling prophecies. Optimism has been shown to influence outcomes: Your thoughts define and create reality as much, or possibly more, than vice versa. Leaders must not only see opportunity in adversity, they must model it, convey and create optimism in others.

(4) Persevering and taking responsibility for actions. Perseverance is what provides strength, and responsibility generates honour. To your employer, your first duty is to earn your income; to others, it is understanding and respect; to your community, consideration and appreciation; and to those you lead it is to protect, act in their best interest, and teach.

(5) Building a resilient culture.  Fostering a group identity, or sense of belonging, combined with group cohesion—the degree of interpersonal affinity, commitment or attraction that members share—are keys to cultural resilience. The tenet “No one left behind” creates the sense of safety without which followers won’t follow.

(6) Developing physical and psychological health as a competitive advantage. Overwhelm, frustration, fatigue and illness will undermine any effort towards resilience. To combat this, leaders need to follow, model, and promote common sense rules for physical and mental health.