The Resilient Leader: Underpinning the Resilient Team


We talk a lot about building resilient teams and the benefits this brings to our businesses both in terms of productivity and also in health and wellbeing.  We don’t always acknowledge the role played by the resilient leader in our discussions on resilient teams.  Our focus is often on employee engagement, communication and other worthy components of these high performing teams.


It is simple, though.  You cannot build a resilient team without first building a resilient leader.  The leader sets the tone and culture in the team.


When a Team Has a Resilient Leader

If the leader is resilient, then the team will either be already resilient or certainly able to be developed into a resilient team.  Team members look to their leader for guidance on how to respond to moments of adversity, stress, challenge and change.  When they look up in these times and see a resilient leader able to sustain her energy under pressure, approaching her work with an adaptive mindset, looking for the opportunity in change, the team see the behaviours to work through these difficult times being modelled.


If the leader is not resilient, then the team is much less likely to either be or be developed into a resilient team.  If the leader is flummoxed by change, challenge, stress and adversity the team will see this response and will find no guidance on how they should respond.  They are looking for direction at this point and will not get it.  Soon, the team will learn not to look for guidance and direction, never learning how to respond positively in these situations.


So, we know that a resilient leader is the foundation of any resilient team.  Also note, that high performing teams are much more likely to be resilient.



What is Resilience?

Resilience is sometimes described as the ‘ability to bounce back’ from adversity or difficulty.  While this is an important part of resilience, it doesn’t tell the full story.  It undersells it a bit and is only a component of being resilient.


Resilience is about our ability to meet challenge, setbacks, difficulties, trauma and adversity and be able to deal well with them.  It is not always about recovery or bouncing back.  It is also about mental fortitude in coping with stress in the first place and not always needing to get up, dust yourself off and go again.  The resilient leader will try not to fall over in the first place.


Resilient people are able to sustain their energy, motivation and drive in challenging times, adapt to change and are able to overcome difficulties without engaging in dysfunctional behaviour.

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The Resilient Leader: Traits, Qualities and Behaviours

So, how can we tell if a leader is resilient?  We can look for some of the following signs:


A resilient leader will:

  1. Continue to lead with calmness, clarity, composure and maintain emotional equilibrium when faced by anxiety, change and complexity.
  2. Not spread tension and anxiety when feeling upset.
  3. Practice self-care emotionally and physically so they can sustain their leadership efforts over time and through adversity, leading from a position of strength.
  4. Be able to adapt readily to new situations by being able to deal with ambiguity and uncertainty.
  5. Handle setbacks and mistakes with poise, tolerance and grace, looking for the learning to be gained and path forward.
  6. Put mistakes, setbacks and other stressful situations into perspective and will not dwell on these.
  7. Communicate clarity, confidence and sureness during challenging and uncertain times.
  8. Have support readily available to cope with emotional overload.



Low Leadership Resilience: Signs

There are some clear signs that we can use to identify low resilience in leaders, whether that is ourselves or a colleague that may need support.


A leader with low resilience may:

  • Experience difficulty leaving a difficult or stressful conversation behind by putting it into perspective, instead dwelling on it prolonging their stressed state.
  • Become overly self-reliant, not trusting others.
  • Struggle to prioritise their workload, leading into further stress and uncertainty.
  • Become overcommitted without realising it, both by their struggle to prioritise and also by being unable to say ‘no’ to requests.
  • Prioritise a tough persona over showing empathy.
  • Refuse opportunities to reflect, preferring to be constantly active instead.
  • Fails to develop themselves or practice sufficient self-care, relying on their existing strengths and skills.
  • Handle mistakes and setbacks poorly, losing focus on the path forward.
  • Allow uncertainty, change and stress to create confusion in their communication showing a lack of certainty, calmness and composure.
  • Become easily stressed and emotional when under pressure.


The first step to building either a resilient team or organisation is to develop resilience in the leaders.  A culture of resilience is not possible unless resilience permeates the communication and behaviours of those people employees look to for guidance during times of stress, anxiety, and change.  Resilience must start at the top.


What are you doing to become a ‘resilient leader’?  Look at our bitesized masterclasses on Resilience and Wellbeing, including our 2 hour Masterclass ‘The Resilient Leader’ to get started on enhancing your leadership success.

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