Resilient leadership is only five steps away

“The historic challenge for leaders is to manage the crisis while building the future.”


Crisis management shouldn’t be driving your business. Resilient leadership should be.

Here’s how (and why) you need to kickstart it:

With a few months of COVID-19 crisis management under the belt, most businesses are starting to move from a reactive, constant state of crisis management to a place of recovery and planning. But how many are building resilience into their strategy as much as their leadership style?

A business is only as resilient as its leaders
In the recovery phase, the world doesn’t just reset and go back to the way it was. Your operating environment won’t. Your employees and customers definitely can’t. Even your supply chain probably looks different now than it did five months ago.

Churchill might have been a great war leader, but he didn’t fare too well in times of peace. One style (of leadership) does not fit all (situations). Styles change as the times dictate. But resilience is a classic. As a human quality and leadership style, it never dates.

Where crisis leadership focuses on just getting through today, every day, resilience leadership reimagines what tomorrow will look like to help stakeholders start planning for it today.


FIVE ways to shift to a resilient style leadership

1. Resilient leaders ask difficult questions
Now that the old ways of doing business have shifted, cracked and crumbled, business is being forced to question the fundamentals like, “what’s our purpose?”, “who are we serving by staying in business?” and “are we delivering wants and needs, profit or shared value – and do these have to be in competition with each other?”.

Resilient leaders are not afraid to ask these uncomfortable questions at the risk of discovering answers they don’t like or even ones they can’t answer. It’s like the physicist, Richard Feynman said, “I would rather have questions I cannot answer than answers I cannot question.” Not having all the answers is the point of departure for a resilient leader. They are not satisfied with just surviving in the short term but thriving in the long term, which means always putting purpose and people at the centre of their business analysis. Resilient leaders also understand that profit is an outcome, not a purpose, which is why they’re not afraid to redefine success and the targets they need to put in place to measure them.


2. Resilient leaders explain why
In crisis mode, the common leadership style is to explain what needs to be done and how everyone needs to deliver this. We assume it’s the fastest way to influence an audience and action a desired outcome. Often we think the “why” is self evident and doesn’t require explaining. Maybe this is true in crisis management, when the only “why” that seems relevant is “so we can stay in business”. As a resilient leader, explaining why you need someone to do something is an act of empathy that speaks to purpose and leads to self-motivation. This changes the game from something that is required to something that actually matters. And that matters.

Top tip: You can go one step further and share the ideas you considered, explored, tested, and abandoned. And why you did this, of course. This not only shows that you care about your people understanding why this is the right way forward, it also signals that crisis mode is over and helps build confidence and trust in an unknown future.


3. Resilient leaders help people imagine tomorrow
We have gone from a world of widely agreed-upon absolutes to a world of relativity where the ground keeps shifting and most of us feel like we’re floating in midair. Many employees may still be in limbo or, worse still, clinging to the crisis or task at hand as a way to feel safe and secure. The problem is that this tunnel vision becomes a mindset that is hard to shift. In the last few months, COVID-19 has trained us to respond, react and focus on today. And only today. Resilient leaders need to imagine what “the day after tomorrow” looks like so they can help their stakeholders see, believe and invest in moving towards that future.


4. Resilient leaders communicate change by changing their communication
A resilient leader understands how important communication is in a time of crisis and recovery. But they also understand that stress impacts how we receive and process information. A resilient leader has the empathy and understanding to change their communication style so they can reach people where they are. They know to keep people updated, but not overwhelmed. They keep their emails short and always start their messages from a place of empathy that recognises the difficulties their people face. They also make sure that the message comes from the right person. In times of stress, people tend to judge the messenger before they judge the message itself. We only have to think of our own reactions during lockdown and how we responded to messages from different government departments and ministers. It’s the same in business. Choosing trusted, credible messengers who have been effective in the past is key to making sure the message is well received and promptly actioned.


5. Resilient leaders expect and embrace resistance
Most leaders are trained to see resistance as a bad thing. But the truth is that any major change is likely to come up against some form of resistance. Resilient leaders will see this as a positive sign – evidence that people are hearing and processing their message. They will also understand that resistance is a natural reaction for people to feel and express when they feel things are out of their control. And the COVID-19 pandemic has done that, very effectively. Most people can’t operate in the way they’re used to or comfortable with. And that makes people feel uneasy and want to break out or push back on something. So if change is your message then resistance will be a common answer.

That’s why resilient leaders know to address resistance with openness and optimism, conveying empathy for how people may feel, always act from a learning mindset, adapting to what is needed and staying open to adjusting their game plan as and when new facts emerge.


As we start moving from crisis mode to a period of recovery and, in many ways, exploration and discovery, we need to be questioning our leadership style as much as our business strategy.

The past few months have been a reminder to every leader to remain open and empathetic.
It’s a call to question and seek…
A resilient leader knows to answer that call.

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