Now, more than ever, we need Resilient Leadership

21 April 2020 by Isla Lightfoot

Resilience is a word that has become increasing referenced in recent weeks, particularly in the context of companies and leaders. The ability to adapt and bounce back quickly, in unprecedented times, gives companies clear advantage and promotes reassurance among employees. Key to this is the presence of leadership, who can react effectively and demonstrate the qualities needed to steer the crisis towards its resolution.

Resilience has always been a fundamental cornerstone of good Leadership, but in times of crisis, when no one knows what is going on, the ability for leaders to act with resilience and integrity is key. Franklin D Roosevelt is widely considered to have been a great and resilient leader. The good news is, that these skills are being demonstrated by some leaders across the world today.

People look to leaders to lead. Particularly in crisis, leaders must take decisions based on the information that they have. They need to do so confidently and honestly. It is a cliché but Churchill's 'We shall fight on the beaches' speech is an exemplar of crisis leadership. Apparently, immediately after giving the speech, Churchill muttered to a colleague, "And we’ll fight them with the butt ends of broken beer bottles because that's bloody well all we've got!" Leaders need to project confidence and vision even when they are unsure themselves.

Leaders have to ask themselves 5 questions in crisis situations:

  1. What happened?
  2. Why are we here?
  3. How are we going to get out of it?
  4. What route are we going to take?
  5. What things do we need to do to get there?

There are several things that Leaders can do in a crisis, to manage their teams well:

  1. People want to feel that they are contributing and doing something useful, so think carefully about positioning the tasks that need doing, making it clear what the objectives and outcomes are within the context of the crisis.
  2. Demonstrate that there will be an end to the crisis and outline a vision of what that looks like. Our Director of Technology at Corndel, Richard Bridge, was sent an email from a friend who lives in Wuhan. She described how life was starting to return to normal and the things that she had learnt from this crisis. It was inspiring to hear, so we’d like to share her words below:

“It has been a while since my last post when we were in 'lock-down' in China and since I've had a few emails recently, I think it's probably time to update everyone.

We are just finishing our 7th week of E-Learning, seven weeks of being mainly housebound and seven weeks of uncertainty. We are healthy, we are happy, and we are humbled.

We are allowed to move around freely now with a green QR code (bar code) that we show when we get our temperature taken. You get your temperature taken everywhere, and it's just become part of the routine. Most restaurants and shopping centres are now open, and life is coming back to our city.

As we watch the rest of the world begin their time inside; here are some of my reflections on the last seven weeks:

  1. Accept that you have no control over the situation. Let go of any thoughts of trying to plan too much for the next month or two. Things change so fast. Don't be angry and annoyed at the system. Anxiety goes down, and you make the best of the situation - whatever that might be for you. Accept that this is what it is, and things will get easier.
  1. Try not to listen to/read/watch too much media. It WILL drive you crazy. There is a thing as too much!
  1. The sense of community I have felt during this time is incredible. I could choose who I wanted to spend my energy on - who I wanted to call, message and connect with and found the quality of my relationships has improved.
  1. Appreciate this enforced downtime. When do you ever have time like this? I will miss it when we go back to the fast-paced speed of the 'real world'.
  1. Time goes fast. I still haven't picked up the ukulele I planned to learn, and there are box set TV shows I haven't watched yet.
  1. As a teacher, the relationships I have built with my students have only continued to grow. I have loved seeing how independent they are; filming themselves to respond to tasks while also learning essential life skills such as balance, risk-taking and problem-solving, that even we as adults are still learning.
  1. You learn to appreciate the little things; sunshine through the window, flowers blossoming and being able to enjoy a coffee in a cafe.

To those just beginning this journey, you will get through it. Listen to what you are told, follow the rules and look out for each other. There is light at the end of the tunnel.”

  1. Communication in a crisis is everything. From the Government’s daily briefings, to daily team briefings by Leaders and Managers, it is really important to be highly visible. Generally in crises, businesses typically work with about 60% of the information needed, so Leaders have to be prepared to make and communicate decisions without the full facts. Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York, is someone who has been clear about what he knows and equally clear about what he doesn’t know, communicating how he is balancing/deriving judgements as a result. It is important to be clear about when you can’t be clear or precise. It is about the importance of honesty and the tension between that and being confident.  When trying to appear confident you can’t fall into being dishonest or smudging over the imprecision and lack of clear facts that you are having to work with.  Honesty breads respect.  Respect is what gets you through and why people will follow you.

The qualities that Leaders need to display in times of Crises are not fundamentally different from those in better times, but four traits have a greater role to play:

  1. Self-assuredness – it is very important to show human credibility and pragmatism. Philip Jansen’s response to the abuse of his BT Engineers, brought on by conspiracy theories that 5G is responsible for Covid, in addition to his donation of salary to the NHS, displayed credible, human leadership.
  2. An analytical eye and the ability to creatively problem solve, to move to a positive outcome. Kurt Geiger was one of the first brands, under the leadership of CEO Neil Clifford, to donate stock, vouchers and continuous discounts to NHS workers and encourage staff, who are still on full salary, to donate their time to charities now that their shops are closed. Brands and Leaders who position themselves as helpful, putting wider needs before their own, demonstrate exceptional resilience and should recover well.
  3. Emotional Intelligence is acknowledged as a vital skill for strong leadership. Leaders who listen to feedback and think carefully about how people are feeling in this crisis, will communicate more effectively. In addition, Leaders who demonstrate they aren’t fixed and can change direction as new facts come to light will fare well. New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, who has continually demonstrated high levels of emotional intelligence throughout her time in office, has once again demonstrated genuine empathy for the difficulties people are facing and brought them along with her. By outlining the difficult choices, making the difficult decisions and taking people into her confidence about why she is making them, she has brought a nation together.
  4. Delegation and identifying and accepting expertise, is key to succeeding in crises. With 50% of staff fearing for their jobs (HR Grapevine, April 2020), now more than ever it is important to provide constant and consistent reassurance and give people clear roles. The identification of expertise within your teams, to help you recover quickly is essential.

Crises bring out the best and the worst in humans. Leadership plays an important part in holding people together and projecting the common good. Leadership can facilitate the best in people. Publicise the great things that are coming out of this crisis, from Italian people singing on their balconies, to the Brits who clap for their NHS workers every Thursday at 8pm. We all have a role to play in this crisis. Resilient Leaders and Managers are more crucial today than ever before and great Leaders will be remembered.


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