Wanted: Resilient Leaders Who Can Manage Through Chaos and Confusion

By Dani Monroe

Global corporations are in need of people with the ability to bounce back, cope, reset their course of action, and renew their efforts.

Business strategies that once changed every two years are now changing at an accelerated rate of every six months or quarterly, depending on your revenue cycle. With more and more sophisticated ways of forecasting and tracking business, it’s easy to determine what’s working and what’s not.

This type of business environment requires quick, decisive actions with expedient methods for resolving outcomes. It also causes incredible stress, which leads to physical or mental conditions that impair leaders’ effectiveness.

In short, we need more leaders who are resilient and using their skills of managing through confusion and chaotic times while getting positive results.

The 4 traits of resilient people

What exactly should you be looking for in people who display strong resilience skills? Social scientists say you can see at least these four things in resilient people.

  • One, they produce positive results even in high-risk situations.
  • Two, they demonstrate competence even during the most stressful situations.
  • Three, they recover quickly from traumatic situations.
  • And, four, they grow from their failures and challenges, which allows them to more easily and quickly deal with future challenges.

This last trait may be the one that is most useful in the work environment. Over time, resilient people begin to build a repertoire of successful projects and assignments, and their abilities to lead and be a strong performer increases.

As a manager, you have the ability to build the capacity for resilience in your team members. In a 2005 article in the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies titled Leadership Behavior and Subordinate Resilience, the authors found a direct correlation between a leader’s behavior and subordinate (their term) resilience, especially when transformational leadership characteristics were being demonstrated. By presenting a crisis as a challenge that can be resolved and with adequate support and guidance on the approach to problems, leaders can build their team members’ resilience skills.

Helping people to build resilience over time

Being able to discern who is resilient on your team and who isn’t provides you the opportunity to calibrate someone’s development process. If you have a direct report who quietly avoids high-risk situations or who doesn’t grow from mistakes or failures but instead blames others, you can help with growing his/her confidence.

You may start with where they are on the emotional ladder of resilience and push the performance goal so it slightly pushes their comfort level. Once that comfort level is reached, you move the bar once again. Over time and with varying stimulators that add to their discomfort, they will slowly build their resilience skills.

Bob Bowman, the swim coach for Michael Phelps, used this technique to help Michael develop skills to deal with adversity during championship swim meets. He created training exercises unbeknownst to Michael that had him responding to organized, uncomfortable situations until Michael was capable of adjusting his emotional mode to address any inconsistencies in his performance environment.

He even let Phelps race in a national junior meet without goggles. When Phelps forgot his goggles as he walked to the starting blocks, Bowman could have brought them to him. But he didn’t. Phelps still won the race, and it proved a beneficial lesson in 2008 when Phelps’s goggles filled with water as he swam the 200-meter butterfly in the Olympics. Phelps not only won that race, but did so in world-record time.

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When you have direct reports who are resilient, it provides an opportunity to assign difficult and strategically important assignments to them.

You know they may falter, but they’ll come out with a plan to manage the process to success. And they will overcome their frustrations and disap- pointment in a healthy way that moves work forward.

Too much untapped talent stays untapped

As a manager, your role is to provide the support for people to be successful. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the primary factor in developing resilience is “having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family. Relationships that create trust, provide role models, and offer encouragement and reassurance help bolster a person’s resilience.”

The other most common factors, according to the APA, are the following:

  1. The capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out
  2. A positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities.
  3. Skills in communication and problem solving.
  4. The capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses.

The untapped talent in today’s business world often stays untapped not because it lacks resilience but because its resilience hasn’t been put into play. It hasn’t been spotted or developed, but it’s very much like a muscle. It just needs to go to the gym.

Look for those around you who have experienced challenges in their lives and ask how their experiences have created a resilience that can help them thrive on your team and in a different stretch assignments. Put them to the test, and see if they don’t bounce back stronger than ever.

Reprinted with permission from Untapped Talent: Unleashing the Power of the Hidden Workforce, by Dani Monroe. Copyright 2013 reproduced with permission by Palgrave Macmillan, a division of St. Martin’s Press.

Dani Monroe is president and founder of Center Focus International, Inc. She has consulted to C-suite executives in a variety of global Fortune 100 and 500 companies around the world. Monroe was appointed to the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education and the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women by Gov. Deval Patrick, and she also serves on East Carolina University's National Leadership Advisory Council.

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1 Comment on “Wanted: Resilient Leaders Who Can Manage Through Chaos and Confusion

  1. Totally agree, resilience is a valuable quality to develop. We learn so much from observing those that have pushed through tough situations, despite the odds. Initially, inspiration often comes from observing these type of people and situations….however, when practiced in one’s own life, it gives you the internal self inspiration to become resilient yourself.

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