Last updated: 13 November 2020
Leadership is challenging even in the best of times. And the ‘new normal’ Corona-influenced world of today presents an ever-greater challenge to businesses, leadership, and daily life. Through resilient leadership in times of crisis, both leaders and managers can be fully equipped to embrace changes during times of crisis.
Resilience has never been more necessary than now.
This article will help you understand what resilient leadership is and its core values so you can create it for yourself and your team.
Using author John C. Maxwell’s framework for significant changes every leader should embrace from his book Leadershift, you will gain a how-to guide to help you cultivate resilience and thrive in the face of adversity.
What is Resilient Leadership?
In Psychology Today, Madelyn Blair defines resilience as ‘the ability to bounce back after experiencing adversity.’ And a resilient leader is ‘someone who can bring themselves, their team, and their organization through difficult times and continue to thrive while doing so.’
To handle stress and lead well during super stressful times, you need to be resilient.
Resilience means you meet challenges as an opportunity rather than as a time to shut down.
In their Harvard Business Review article, To Handle Increased Stress Build Your Resilience, Ama and Stephanie Marston say that when you ask “What can I learn from this?” instead of “Why me?” you get to shape the challenge to your advantage. We get to a state of resilience.
So how to do this? How to switch from stress-induced shut-down to stress-related shine?
‘When it comes to handling stress, start with yourself: we are our own most effective, powerful resource.’
– Ama and Stephanie Marston
By tapping into your inner resourcefulness with these seven steps, let us guide you to your new normal– resilient leadership.
7 Ways To Show Resilient Leadership In Times Of Crisis
1. Bring Out the Best in Everyone
In a nutshell, this means making the shift from “me” to “we.”
According to Maxwell, too many leaders (like himself in his early career) think mainly of themselves. However, true leadership is about looking at what you can do for others, not what you can do yourself.
Using an orchestra’s analogy to illustrate his point, Maxwell advises – don’t be the soloist (which is where most leaders get stuck). Instead, be the conductor.
Focus on helping everyone else produce a great result and focus on assisting others to shine.
To do this, make sure you have the right attitude towards your people: listen to them first before expecting them to listen to you. Base your leadership around their needs rather than solely on your own ambitions.
2. Develop A Growth Mindset (Growth Over Goals)
A goal mindset is oriented around status and achievement– it prioritizes hitting a target and asks how long it will take to get there.
A growth mindset is based on development and ongoing improvement, and asks, “how far can I take this?”
As a leader, it seems counter-intuitive to shift from goals to growth when so much of the enterprise is measured by hitting goals and targets.
The idea is not to abandon goals, KPI’s and all of those metrics, the idea is to focus on becoming a better leader. Focusing on skills development and leadership improvement will likely help your team achieve more than if your focus is on goals alone.
Maxwell remembers Elmer Towns’ experience, a University professor and writer he admired: Towns’ initial goal was to sell a ton of books. However, having sold just over a hundred thousand units, his focus shifted to becoming a better writer.
Some years later he was presented with a One Million Books Sold trophy. By switching his focus to his growth as a writer over selling books, he was able to achieve far more.
The key to encompassing a growth mindset is to be coachable. Have a teachable spirit. Rather than backing off from continuously improving your skills and abilities, embrace it.
According to research cited in the Forbes article Seven Ways To Become A More Resilient Leader, the leaders are both humble and coachable. In fact, the most resilient leaders ask for feedback throughout their careers.
With the feedback you receive, another key factor in resilient leadership is to demonstrate a real effort to improve. Use all feedback as information, as data (in other words, don’t take it personally, or let it inflate your ego) and look at how to better practice using the info you receive. This will have a positive effect on outcomes.
Additionally, by modeling your own coachability, and offering supportive feedback and coaching to your team you will also be able to help them to build their own resilience. In turn, you get to support them to build their own resilience and contribute to the strength of the business.
‘Resiliency is needed when we encounter failure. Developing others helps everyone learn from their mistakes.’
– Joseph Folman
3. Build A Ladder for Others to Climb
You probably know or have experienced other people in leadership positions who are self-centered in their approach.
Maxwell describes this type of leader as looking at the career ladder and asking, “how high up the ladder can I climb?”
However, he says, true leaders shift the focus away from climbing the ladder themselves to looking at how they can build ladders for others to climb.
You will indeed have done some climbing to get where you are. Skills acquisition, career, and self- development are certain prerequisites.
Yet, according to Maxwell, when you get into the top 10% of your chosen field you hit the sweet spot, where you can safely assume you have a whole lot to offer others. (If you are that magic zone, think seriously about mentoring.)
If you are on your way to the magic zone like the other 90%, keep building ladders.
By building up others, you build trust and resiliency. According to research published in Forbes, resilient leadership occurs when you can bring others along with you through ‘positive and trusting relationships.’
Building trust is also being there for your people, which is never more critical than amid a pandemic!
A strong ability to form positive relationships and bond with others is one of the pillars of resilience, according to Professor George Kohlreiser et al in Resilient Leadership: Navigating the Pressures of Modern Working Life, strong personal bonds give us the confidence to take risks and stretch goals.
They are also vital in supporting us as we recover from failure and disappointment. Relationships based on trust are our “secure bases.” They form a network of people we know we can count on, both in our personal lives and at work.
4. Connect, Don’t Just Direct
Creating strong and positive, resilient relationships makes the shift from directing your people to connecting with them.
Taking his cue from legendary basketball coach Pat Summitt, Maxwell asserts that leadership that embraces collaboration over authority and listening rather than talking builds connection and builds success.
Witnessing Summitt in the halftime locker room he noticed that when the players came in, rather than talking to her straight off, they got around a whiteboard and discussed these three questions:
- What did we do right?
- What did we do wrong?
- What should we change?
Only when the team had agreed upon the answers did Summitt approach to talk to them. And when she did, she heard them out, reflected on their answers and made a few observations before they hit the court for the second half.
This demonstrates a powerful combination of collaboration and empowerment through listening.
Listening is fundamental to leading with connection, not simply direction. As a leader, your job is more about listening than talking, so it’s a skill worthy of your investment.
If you really want to improve your listening, seize it with a growth mindset and get some feedback. Ask trusted family, friends, and colleagues to rate your listening on a scale of one to ten.
Take note of what they say and act on it. (If your ratings aren’t great, think about taking a course– listening is a skill that can be improved and developed.)
Resilient leadership in times of crisis is leading with connections. It will lead to better relationships, better communication and flow of ideas. In all, it will lead to better results for everybody.
5. Get Down with Diversity
By making the shift to valuing diversity you bring greater richness and value to your leadership and your life. Diversity brings insight and fresh perspective; it brings new knowledge and skills.
Leaders cannot know everything because you rely on your team to fill knowledge gaps as a leader. What better way to do this than with a wide and diverse range of perspectives? Diversity makes teams more useful and valuable.
Don’t just take our word for it, look at the examples of history – strong and resilient leaders of the past, such as Abraham Lincoln, sought out diversity. Lincoln formed his own cabinet from such a diverse range group that some of them were sworn political rivals.
He knew that to make his Union his success, pass the Emancipation Proclamation and navigate the civil war he would need the widest range of thinkers and skills from a diverse range of people.
‘By building trust and being open to differences these leaders are able to create strong teams by building positive relationships. An individual may be willing to make a dramatic change, but it requires positive relationships to get others to support change.’
– Joseph Folman
Maxwell advises that if looking at your friends and contacts is a little too much like looking in the mirror, make an effort to get to know people of different political persuasions, ages and ethnic backgrounds to you.
Be prepared to be refreshed by a difference in outlooks, views and perspectives.
6. Create Meaning
The best lives have meaning, so Maxwell recommends making the “Leadershift” from career to calling. Some folks have a job, and some have a career, some of the lucky ones might have found your calling. In other words, you may have found something greater than yourself to pursue in your line of work.
A calling is a clear meaning, purpose and reason for living (which extends to your work).
Essentially though, a calling isn’t just about you. A life dominated by a calling (beyond just a career or job) comes from thinking, giving and serving beyond yourself.
Wouldn’t it be great to find this richer and more rewarding way forward? According to Maxwell you can.
Ask yourself this: “What would be the one thing you could do for hours on end, that you would gladly do for the rest of forever, that would make a positive difference for others?” When you have the answer to that question you might have just found your calling.
Indeed, the outspoken blog writer Mark Manson spent hours writing lengthy replies and responses across others’ websites before it occurred to him that writing just might be his calling.
Ok, so finding or moving into the area of your calling might not be as easy as 1-2-3, so in the interim, create meaning.
If you want a step-by-step guide on how to find your calling, especially during a pandemic, check out: How To Deal With A Career Crisis During COVID-19
It’s up to you to create the meaning in your work (especially when times are hard, or when you’re not feeling the love).
Finding the real reason, the real meaning behind doing what you do creates steadfastness and resilience in your work. It becomes connected to something personal, something more meaningful to you than just the job you are doing.
That meaning might be covering the bills and providing for your family. It could be helping others. It could be saving animals. Maybe it’s raising awareness.
Whatever it is, making a leadershift to meaning, or even from career to calling makes for a more fulfilled life.
It also gives you the ability to stick it out when the going gets tough; it makes for real resilience in your leadership.
7. Lead From Moral Authority Over Positional Authority
Moral authority– Okay, this is definitely not taking the moral high-ground and condemning all other values that happen to be in conflict with yours. Just for the record!
What Maxwell means by moral authority is your integrity, your core values as a leader.
Integrity itself is a value, simply it means the ability to align your words with your actions. A leader who acts with integrity inspires trust and inspires others to follow them.
Other values such as respect, growth and courage are also fundamental for resilient leadership through changing times.
Take Nelson Mandela for example, a figure who unequivocally led through difficult times with absolute moral authority.
All throughout his political career and time in prison, he could be relied upon to behave in a way that was aligned with his values, time after time, challenge after challenge.
Combining the values of courage and integrity will make you a resilient leader that people will be happy to follow.
To develop your resilient leadership even developing a few of these factors will help transform your resilience and leadership style.
By improving your ability to connect with others, your listening and communication skills, by expanding your diversity and capacity for being coachable (by being open to feedback) takes you a long way.
Add to that a focus on building positive relationships through building up others, leading with integrity and courage, and advancing yourself (and others) through growth over goals will see your leadership results and your resilience soar.
Developing these aspects of your leadership style gives you the tools and the inner resource to meet challenges, pandemic related or otherwise. It offers you the potential to create opportunities in adversity and thrive in your ‘new normal’ of resilient leadership, whatever is going on in the world.