By Robert Mulhall

Leading With Resilience: What is true resilience and how can it serve you as a leader?


“Resilience is the capacity of a system, enterprise, or a person to maintain its core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changed circumstances.”
-Andrew Zolli


At the Crossland Group, when we think about resilience, what comes to mind is the image of a leader who, after experiencing some kind of defeat or setback, is able to come back to her center, pick herself up, bounce back, overcome, and keep going. In today’s world, leaders are constantly being challenged, often in small ways multiple times each day—sometimes in big ways a few times a year. This is what leadership looks like—in fact, it is probably what leadership has always looked like. We know that being a leader can be a tough role to play, and often leaders do not get the support they need. So, how can one stay resilient, in spite of the external circumstances in which she operates? This is a question that has been put to and answered by some of the most famous and influential leaders and luminaries of our time.

What Resilience Isn’t

All too often resilience is interpreted through the lens of an old leadership paradigm. This is a paradigm that expected leaders to be super human—to immediately have all the answers and to be perfect, strong, never fail, and never give up. That lens puts the emphasis on the individual to “cowboy up” and just “get on with it.” It expects leaders to be tough no matter what they are experiencing on the inside, and encourages them to never show any signs of “weakness.” Let’s leave that lens aside; it has not brought us great outcomes when we look at the state of leadership today and the major global challenges we are facing. Leaders of today are being invited to stop trying to fulfill the old paradigm that encouraged them to be ultra-rigid in their efforts to show resiliency, and instead understand that with flexibility and fluidity comes the strength required to get back on course and be truly resilient.

“Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.”


What It Really Means to be Resilient

At Crossland, we choose to use a lens of emotional intelligence, with self-awareness, vulnerability, and empathy in any conversation about resilience. A truly resilient leader is someone who is able to stay in her center of gravity or come back to it quickly when things get off-kilter. Just like in a game of tennis, we want to be able to reposition ourselves into the center of the court so we are ready for the next ball to come over the net, regardless of the angle.

We live and work in a world where resilience is a must-have skillset in our toolkit. In fact, it is more than a skillset, it is a way of being. Change is a constant force—in our own lives, in our organizations, and in the world around us. Trying to be “strong” in the face of this change will lead us to being wound too tight. Just like the perfect sound from a guitar, we do not want ourselves to be tuned too tightly or too loosely—we are looking for that way of being that allows us to feel naturally resilient. Crossland Group sees its clients as whole human beings who are complex with many great strengths and gaps. As whole human beings, we have a physical, mental, emotional, and, for some, a connection to a spiritual dimension. A part of being resilient is about being aligned and integrated in all of these dimensions. When one dimension is at odds with another, we often feel inauthentic at a leader, and this can impact our ability to stay resilient.

This type of true resilience has the ability to deeply ground us as a leader, and is worth the attention it takes. In our experience, the following are the six key pillars of making resilience not just something you “do,” but a way of being:

#1 – Be aligned to your purpose and vision. We strongly encourage all leaders to develop a deeper understanding of their own personal purpose and vision and to do the same with their organizations. Your purpose and vision are your north star. It is almost impossible to stay resilient when you are not clear on the “why” and the “what” of your work. Why do you get out of bed every day? Why do you do the work you do? What is your reason to be? When we have individual and organizational answers to the questions of “why do I exist?” and “what is the future reality I am envisioning?” we feel much more resilient to internal and external changes. If you are not clear on these answers, stop, make the time and answer the questions—this short-term investment has incredible long-term value. With these answers, you have a north star to always keep you focused and steady, no matter how big the waves are.

#2 – Be adaptable. Eco-systems are changing all the time, targets are moving, talent is coming and going, new processes are being implemented, economic movements are constant, and consumer needs are on the move. We live in a world that is not slow and not constant. Our ability to be adaptable is deeply important. In such a world that we live in, staying present in order to see what is changing and how we are being asked to move with it, is a key piece of staying adaptable. One of the best questions to come back to as a leader is simply, “what is needed here?” This one question can cut through all the noise, doubts, ambitions, etc., and help you do what is needed in the moment. Being in the moment is a way to stay adaptable. How can we both know who we are as leaders and as organizations and constantly meet the evolving world with humility? As Lao-Tzu says, be like water!

“The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings.”
-Kakuzo Okakura


#3 – Be aligned—body, mind, heart, and spirit. Our resilience as a leader is so often thrown off when we feel out of alignment with ourselves. Cultivate a greater sense of resilience by speaking, acting, and making decisions from a place of alignment with your body, mind, heart, and spirit (if this applies to your way of seeing the world). We often spend so much energy being in our “thinking world” and not enough time being aware of what is going on at these other levels. Our bodies are a great signaler of stress, misalignment, illness, etc. Work to become more aware of all levels of your being as a leader and notice where you feel out of alignment. The more aligned we are, the greater our sense of clarity and the more inner strength we have.

#4 – Be in balance—mindfulness, wellness, stillness, silence. As we’ve said, resilience is about being able to stay at or return quickly to our sense of center. Today, there is a growing amount of research available that speaks to the power of mindfulness, wellness, stillness, and silence as key tools and ways of being for every leader to tap into as a way of staying close to her center. We recommend a regular contemplative practice that allows you to cultivate more inner and outer stillness, silence, and mindfulness.

#5 – Cultivate trust and ask for help. Asking for help is a big part of being resilient. We need to shake off these old ideas of hero leadership and start to embrace the incredible resources we have around us. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. You do not need to know all the answers as a leader—how could one person possibly know all the answers, all the solutions, all the best next moves? When we can open up (body, mind, heart, and spirit), then we can start to have more trust in those around us and start to ask for help more freely. The more often we have strong people around us that can carry the leadership load with us, the more resilient we feel.

# 6 – See the world through the eyes of the optimist—have faith, hope, and optimism. Have you ever noticed how people who have a sense of trust in themselves, those around them, or even in something else, seem to have a steadiness to the way they lead? These are people who have a sense that, even as things get hard and challenging, they will eventually work out okay—maybe not exactly as planned, but they are confident that things will land the right side up. These leaders understand that challenging moments are there to teach them, so that they can grow into even better leaders. These leaders bring a quality of optimism to the way they lead that can be infectious. This optimism builds a sense of resilience in them and those around them. Their resilience builds optimism and their optimism builds resilience.

Although the list above is not exhaustive, we know that when leaders invest in these six aspects of their leadership, they experience greater levels of resilience. In fact, resilience becomes more of a way of being and less of a thing they do. Resilient leaders have a purpose, a vision, and they meet the world with great adaptability. They are aligned and in balance, they trust others, have faith, and lead with optimism.

At the Crossland Group, we know that our fundamental purpose—why we exist—is at the very heart of this transformational change. We have been helping leaders at all levels more effectively lead with true resilience for the past twenty years. We know that, while challenging, this process is not only possible, but can also be life-changing and deeply rewarding.

Focusing on trying to be “strong” instead of focusing on getting back to our center of gravity will only give a short-term sense of resilience, eventually it will burn you out.

To find out more about how we support leaders on their journeys to true resilience, get in touch with us here.

About the author

Robert Mulhall works with clients as a strategic advisor to identify core business challenges and design transformative solutions by unlocking fears and unnecessary limitations at the individual and organizational levels.

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