It’s no secret that resilience crops up as a theme again and again in leadership search processes. In truly commercially or technologically innovative businesses, you have to run pretty fast to stay in the same place; sometimes while implementing a change programme.
But what’s behind this desire for resilient leaders in particular? Well, of course, resilience is what’s demonstrated in adverse conditions; and often it is ‘a good thing’ that a leader has been through some kind of adversity professionally or personally. It makes us wiser, more empathetic, more emotionally intelligent humans.
So it’s no surprise that my clients, on various occasions, have actually requested to interview strong leaders who have been through professional hardship. The exact wording of the request varies hugely from “making good mistakes early in their career”, “taken major risks” or simply “led in adverse circumstances”. What’s more in my experience; if, for the strongest candidates, stories of personal difficulties come up in an interview or referencing process even better, but only if they’ve learned something from the experiences and then, crucially, applied that learning in a leadership context.
It’s demonstrating this kind of ‘active resilience’ which makes the outstanding stand out from the very good. Or the “we just really like them” stand out from the otherwise uniformly excellent shortlist.
MBA course creator and author Srikumar Rao, writing in HBR, describes resilience as a “mode of thinking” that is practised, cultivated and that can set the tone for your team as you address difficulties as a cohesive unit. He outlines a three-step process. It looks simple, and it is. You will discover how powerful it is when you try it.
Be clear regarding what you are about to classify as a bad thing and why. For example, if you did not meet your revenue goals, what about this is troublesome? Is it that your bonus will suffer? Is it that you may have to lay off staff? Is it that you will not get additional resources you were counting on? Ask yourself this question: “Is there any possible scenario by which this could actually turn out to be a good thing someday?” Simply pondering this question will take you to a different emotional domain, one rich with possibility rather than foreboding. Ask yourself the next question: “What can I — and my team — do to make this scenario come about? How can we turn this event into a good thing that we can all celebrate someday in the future?”