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Resilience (noun): ‘The relentless rebound from life’s blows, masquerading exhaustion as invincibility.’

While not, strictly speaking, the correct definition of the word – this is more in the spirit of Ambrose Bierce’s ‘The Devil’s Dictionary’ – it’s a definition with which many business owners and executives can strongly identify.

While resilience in business leadership is not just a desirable trait, but an absolute necessity in today’s volatile and uncertain landscape, it also has to be said that the concept is often romanticised and oversimplified, painting an incomplete picture of its true nature. We need to challenge the conventional wisdom surrounding leadership resilience, delve deeper into its complexities and question our preconceived notions about what it means to be a resilient leader.

Most people would define a resilient leader as one who is always positive, never letting adversity getting in the way of achieving their goals, and who expects the same of others. However, this sort of leader can be counter-productive for the business, by putting others under too much strain. Rather, resilience is a complex concept involving many different factors, including emotional intelligence, social support, coping strategies, and so on. It’s not something that you either have or don’t have, but rather a skill that can be developed and strengthened over time.

Common Characteristics of Resilient Leadership

With this in mind, let’s first look at some of the common characteristics of resilient leadership:

Adaptability: Resilient leaders are flexible and able to adjust their strategies and plans in response to changing circumstances; they embrace innovation and are open to new ideas.

Emotional intelligence: Resilient leaders have a high level of emotional intelligence, which allows them to understand and manage their own emotions and empathise with the emotions of others, while remaining composed and able to make rational decisions in stressful situations.

Strong communication: Resilient leaders are effective communicators who can convey their vision, provide clear directions, and foster open and honest dialogue within their teams, while actively listening to others and encouraging collaboration.

Problem-solving skills: Resilient leaders are skilled problem solvers who can analyse complex situations, identify potential solutions, and make effective decisions. They’re proactive in addressing challenges and seek innovative ways to overcome obstacles.

Learning mindset: Resilient leaders view failures and setbacks as learning opportunities. They continuously seek personal and professional development, embrace feedback, and encourage a culture of learning and growth within their organisations.

Optimism and positivity: Resilient leaders maintain a positive outlook even during difficult times, inspiring and motivating their teams, instilling confidence and hope, even in the face of adversity.

Determination and perseverance: Resilient leaders exhibit determination and perseverance, even in the face of adversity, maintaining a strong sense of purpose and commitment to achieving their goals.

Empowerment and support: Resilient leaders empower and support their teams, fostering a sense of trust, autonomy, and accountability. They provide guidance, resources, and encouragement to help their team members overcome challenges and reach their full potential.

This is a set of traits that many would find daunting in their leaders, especially if they feel that they are supposed to live up to them all, too, no matter their circumstances. So how does today’s leader take these to build resilience throughout the organisation, and what is a Resilient Organisation?

The Resilient Organisation

A resilient organisation is one that possesses the ability to adapt, recover, and thrive in the face of challenges, setbacks, and uncertainties, withstanding disruptions, navigating change, and effectively responding to crises or unexpected events. They proactively identify risks, develop contingency plans, and build the necessary capabilities to bounce back from any problems they encounter.

Key elements of a resilient organisation include:

Strong Sense of Purpose: Resilient organisations have a clear sense of purpose that guides the decisions and actions of the leadership and the organisation as a whole, where everyone understands the reasons for the company’s existence, are involved in creating the purpose and live it, too. Companies with a clear sense of purpose have more motivated and happier staff, and deliver better growth and profitability that those without.

Strong Organisational Culture: Fostering a culture of trust, collaboration, and accountability, resilient organisations prioritise employee well-being, encourage continuous personal development, and create an environment where individuals can learn from failures and embrace change.

Adaptive Leadership: Resilient organisations have leaders who are agile, forward-thinking, and capable of making decisions speedily in rapidly changing circumstances. They foster a culture of continuous learning, innovation, and open communication to help them determine the best path.

Robust Strategy and Planning: Resilient organisations have well-defined strategies that are adaptable and aligned with their purpose, vision, and values. With regular use of scenario planning and risk assessment they develop contingency plans for anticipated potential disruptions.

Flexible Operations and Processes: Resilient organisations have agile operational structures and processes that can quickly adapt to changing conditions, leveraging technology with streamlined workflows and empowered employees to make decisions and take action.

Stakeholder Engagement: Resilient organisations actively engage with their stakeholders, including employees, customers, suppliers, and the community at large. They build strong relationships, communicate openly, and seek feedback to understand and address concerns.

Robust Risk Management: Resilient organisations have robust risk management systems in place to proactively identify potential risks, develop mitigation strategies, and regularly monitor and reassess their risk landscape, maintaining a current risk register.

Innovation and Adaptability: A culture of innovation and adaptability is essential for resilient organisations. They encourage experimentation, embrace new technologies and market trends, and are willing to pivot their strategies and offerings to meet changing customer needs.


As is clear from this, building a resilient organisation is about a lot more than being a resilient leader – it’s about creating an environment where everyone feels part of a purposeful organisation that encourages development, emphasises well-being and trust, and has a strong culture of accountability throughout.

While resilience is a critical skill for business leaders, allowing them to bounce back from setbacks, adapt to change, and build a strong, healthy business, being a successful leader is about developing your own resilience, and that of everyone in the organisation.

In the face of adversity, be the resilient leader who thrives, inspires, and creates a legacy of resilience within your business. By prioritizing self-care, fostering a supportive environment, learning from setbacks, and empowering your team to create a purpose-driven organisation, you can lead your business towards long-term success.


A side note on resilience: I find it interesting that the world’s oldest trees – some 3000 – 5000 years old – are Bristlecone Pines, Patagonian Cypresses and Giant Sequoias, all members of the pine family and so generally classified as fast-growing, soft wood. They all live in harsh conditions – cold, relatively dry and with limited nutrient access… See here for a list of the oldest-known trees.

So, a level of adversity clearly builds resilience – the secret is to balance this with what’s needed to continue to grow and thrive, as these trees have done with a combination of adaptations to enable them to thrive despite the conditions. Adaptations such as very thick bark, dense resinous wood and chemical compounds to protect against insect damage and decay, slow growth to enable them to allocate their resources efficiently, and reproductive strategies that might span several years to allow for survival of the species despite periodic disturbances and change.


And some final words:

“Resilience isn’t a single skill. It’s a variety of skills and coping mechanisms. To bounce back from bumps in the road as well as failures, you should focus on emphasizing the positive.” – Jean Chatzky, an award-winning financial journalist, author, and motivational speaker.

“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.” – Steve Maraboli, personal growth author in his book Life, the Truth, and Being Free

“What is the difference between an obstacle and an opportunity? Our attitude toward it. Every opportunity has a difficulty, and every difficulty has an opportunity.”  – J. Sidlow Baxter


If you’d like to read further, these related articles and posts might be of interest:


And from Harvard Business Review: What Leaders Get Wrong About Resilience

From Forbes: Why Resilience Is Necessary As A Leader

From Medium: 10 Successful Leaders Share How They Developed The Resilience To Push Through During The Inevitable Challenges of Entrepreneurship


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