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Leadership Insights

Resilience: Why Leaders Need it and How to Build it

5 min read

Our leadership advisory experts explain why resilience is quickly becoming the number one strength leaders need, and provide three sources they can mine to strengthen their position.

From inflation and climate change to cultural division and workforce fracture, leaders face an unprecedented number of internal and external headwinds. C-suite executives operate at the epicenter of their organization and are required to navigate and withstand these headwinds. Boards expect them to chart a course for the organization, while simultaneously providing confidence and leadership to the board and shareholders.

Increasingly, these headwinds include taking stances on morally grey issues where no precedent exists. Senior leadership, having considered and taken counsel must present their position, irrespective of the opposition. They must possess the integrity to uphold their ethical principles and the courage to press ahead despite doubters or underminers.

The same personal resilience is required in other common leadership scenarios. Perhaps leaders must defend the organization against an aggressive takeover bid, face down activist investors, or stand up to a board wishing to take the organization in a direction that does not align with the mission.

All the while leaders are expected to live with ambiguity while driving short-term results at pace. They must generate the energy to create impact through presence, make bold decisions in proposals, and handle emotionally-fraught conversations with tact and level-headedness.

These challenges require foresight to tackle them before they gain momentum, the self-awareness to know with confidence which position to take, and the wisdom to know which battles to fight. Underlying and driving these essential leadership competencies is personal fortitude, strength of will, and conviction – i.e. leadership resilience.

Many experts offer tips for building this resilience at a personal level. While these are useful, there are other sources a CEO can draw upon to cultivate highly valuable long-term resilience.

Creating resilience through allies

Newly hired leaders – whether appointed internally or externally – need to find the right organizational allies. These should be individuals who want to, and can help them, succeed. ‘A-star’ caliber leaders quickly assess the capabilities of potential allies in or beyond their team to create the necessary resilience around them. They invest in building relationships, leading collaboratively, and tackling inter-team behavioral or relationship issues.

They use their influence to create a movement of committed team members with significant and unified intent – a group of trusted individuals they can fall back on. When a senior leader falters, the team helps them bounce back; and together, they confidently tackle crises and growth periods without being burnt out. It provides a leader with more room to maneuver, more time to assess the right course of action, and less stress when processing important decisions.

Our step-by-step guide explains how to build leadership team resilience by reconciling behavioral challenges within a leadership team. It details how to address unresolved behaviors to ensure the leader and their team are generating energy rather than draining it.

Developing decisiveness to foster resilience

A leader must become adept at making complex decisions, tackling issues efficiently with speed, clarity, and focus, without sacrificing quality outcomes. This requires a leader to establish the discipline to face into issues quickly and with courage, then clarify the problem and decide what outcomes are needed.

Fostering decisiveness means being clear throughout the decision process. First, on the criteria underlying the decision. Second, on the scope needed in exploring angles and perspectives in reaching the solution. Third, the commitment to follow-through with actions. Done correctly, this approach leads to faster, higher-quality decision-making.

The journey from issue to agreed proposition will create energy, creativity and momentum in others. This is the turbo-charged capacity a leader needs to get things done at pace across demanding and multiple agendas.

Strengthening resilience by drawing on the board

High-calibre C-suite executives ask: “What value do I get as a leader from my board?”

A great board provides oversight on strategic direction and brings invaluable insight, advice, guidance and support to the senior leadership team. Board members are often veterans of economic crises and have weathered a variety of business challenges.

Boards also serve as a sounding board for the leadership team’s early ideas and considered decisions, helping to refine strategy and navigate complex challenges and stakeholder landscapes. Their wisdom, earned through experience, is a well the leader can draw upon to bolster his or her own resilience.

How we help leaders build resilience

Learning, applying, and combining the practice of creating allies, improving decisiveness, and drawing on the board, will have a multiplier effect, strengthening the leadership team’s and the organization’s resilience.

Odgers Berndtson’s leadership advisory practice provides individual executive and team coaching, and board advisory services which seek to release the potential from all leaders and leadership at the top of the organization and build super resilience around the CEO. As former COO of Facebook (Meta) Sheryl Sandberg said – resilience isn’t built alone, it’s built collectively.  


Get in touch. Follow the links below to discover more, or contact our dedicated leadership experts from your local Odgers Berndtson office here

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