How to build resilience as a business leader
12 September 2018
If you have been fortunate enough to work with a great leader, you might have found yourself at different times trying to identify what it is that makes them so effective. It might have been their ability to remain calm and effective in the face of a crisis, to recover quickly from setbacks, be creative at problem solving, adapt to changing circumstances or persist positively in the face of apparently overwhelming obstacles.
What is business resilience?
To put it simply, business resilience is the ability to effectively operate a business and achieve results while under difficult and uncertain conditions. However, for a business leader, it can be much more multi-faceted.
Effectiveness might also extend beyond the ‘observable’ behaviours of a great leader, to include the simple and honest way that the leader embraces their personal value system; and in doing so fosters strength in themselves and those around them during challenging times.
What is a resilient business leader?
Consider Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors. Following a lengthy career at GM that began in 1980, Barra took over and was immediately in the line of fire. During her first year at the helm, GM issued 84 safety recalls – that’s more than 30 million vehicles. Barra testified before the U.S. Senate about deaths and injuries connected to faulty vehicles. If you were in Barra’s position, leading a multinational with nearly 200,000 employees, how would you fare in the face of this challenge?
Under Barra's leadership, GM refused to pass the blame, instead introduced new safety reporting policies. She said to her staff,
“I never want to put this behind us, I want to put this painful experience permanently in our collective memories.”
Resilience in business is about being able to respond and adapt to change, but as Barra demonstrated, it doesn’t have to be to the detriment of empathy, action and transparency.
A constantly changing world
The business landscape is not only complex and fast moving, but it is also continually evolving. To achieve business success, it is therefore essential that you’re ready for whatever shape or form the future business landscape morphs into. This is where resilience is so important. People and Change Partner at KPMG Dr Jane Gunn recognises that, “developing resilience in both the body and mind to handle complexity is not a luxury, but a strategic advantage.” This isn’t a radical idea. Charles Darwin also observed that historically,
“those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”
Perhaps the more important question for you is, do you know how to build resilience in yourself and your team? For current and aspiring leaders, the good news is that resilience is not a ‘thing’ you either have, or you don’t have. It is a skill that develops as you cultivate broader thinking and embrace change. There is no more important time to begin your resilience in business journey than now.
It's important to take time to read and learn different things.
A common mistake is to think that being a resilient leader means working hard all the time. But a busy work environment can lead to fatigue of both the mind and the physical body.
It’s no coincidence that the greatest leaders, innovators and thinkers of our time, also make regular physical activity a priority in their busy lives. The notoriety of ‘summer reading lists’ from leaders such as Barak Obama and Bill Gates shows that they too take a break from their regular work.
Don’t underestimate the value of giving your mind and body a break. Make flexing your brain and body a priority. Take time to read and learn about different things or try a new activity and give yourself an opportunity to refresh and recharge. A new skill can work wonders for your productivity and efficiency in the workplace.
The variety provided by these activities also ensures you don’t end up working in a silo, that you develop inherent adaptability and continuously broaden your mind.
People, people, people
Humans are social creatures – we all know this. Even if you have an introverted personality, humans need some form of interaction with others. It’s what holds us up. When it comes to being able to respond successfully to challenges, a big part of it is the team you surround yourself with.
Your ‘team’ is both your personal and work networks. Supportive, optimistic and encouraging friends and family provide the backbone to our inner strength and resilience.
In the workplace, you need to nurture a network of colleagues who are driven by similar core values and those who display the characteristics you want to gain. When it comes to remaining on the front foot, all members of your team need to be ready to step up with you.
Being a better leader requires ongoing development including encouraging formal learning such as higher education and other training courses and informal learning in your everyday working environment.
The networks you build will support your career in the long term, providing you with sustainable resilience no matter what is around the corner. The development of trust amongst your networks takes time but lifting yourself is much more effective when you also lift your team with you.
Technology has irrevocably changed the way we do business, and indeed our lives.
It offers a plethora of opportunities for you as a business leader. It provides the opportunity to work with geographically disparate colleagues for a holistic business operation. It offers powerful solutions when handling a crisis and allows teams to respond quicker than ever following setbacks. Better yet, technology allows for flexible learning, studying online and upskilling.
When learning stops, so do effective operations.
Technology gives you and your team the opportunity to upskill and to do some studying online at a time that suits you, wherever you happen to be. In a global operating environment that is continually changing, those who have the latest knowledge and skills will rarely find themselves at a disadvantage.
Allow technology to drive your personal improvement and encourage your team to take opportunities for advancement on-the-go. Learning while working is the best way to implement lessons in a real-world environment and foster innovative thinking.
It is both a mental and physical challenge to be a genuinely resilient leader, but the benefits are obvious. Companies that move with the times will find footing in a new operating landscape. One way to do this is by taking care of your mind and body and find sustainable success in today’s world.
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