Skip to main content

How to build resilience as a business leader

2 January 2021

If you have been fortunate enough to work with an outstanding leader, you might have found yourself trying to identify what it is that makes the person so effective. It might have been their ability to remain calm in the face of a crisis, recover quickly from setbacks, be creative at problem-solving, adapt to changing circumstances, or persist positively in the face of overwhelming obstacles.

Business leaders have had to use all their resilience during an unprecedented pandemic to survive. There has never been a better moment to build and hone business resilience so you can face challenges and support your team as a leader.

What is business resilience?

To put it simply, business resilience is the ability to operate a business and achieve results under difficult and uncertain conditions. However, for a business leader, it can be much more multifaceted. Examples include having to support team members and staying strong while your department is redeployed.

Effectiveness might also extend beyond the observable behaviours of an influential leader to include the simple and honest way that they are personal value system, and in doing so fosters strength in themselves and others during challenging times. Qualities include being humble and insightful when things are not going according to plan and still having the ability to bounce back stronger.

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 involving more than 30 million vehicles. Barra testified before the US Senate about deaths and injuries connected to faulty vehicles. If you were in Barra’s position, leading a multinational company 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. There are lessons to learn about doing things better next time, recovering from a crisis and empowering the team to develop and emerge in a stronger position.

How to build resilience in a constantly changing world

The business landscape is not only complex and fast moving but also continually developing. To achieve business success, it is therefore essential that you are ready for whatever shape or form that the future business landscape morphs into.

This is why resilience is so important. These days, there are talks about learning to expect the unexpected in the business world. Climate change, pandemics and economic instability are all issues that businesses must deal with, and they require resilience.

Dr Jane Gunn, a Partner in KPMG Australia’s People and Change practice, 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 something you either have or do not have. It is a skill that you can develop as you cultivate broader thinking and embrace change.

Fighting fatigue

fighting fatigue

It is both a mental and physical challenge to be a genuinely resilient leader, so it is important not to underestimate the value of giving your mind and body a break.

A common mistake is to think that being a resilient leader means working hard all the time. A busy work environment can lead to fatigue of both the mind and the physical body.

It is no coincidence that the greatest leaders, innovators and thinkers of our time also regular physical activity a priority in their busy lives. The popularity of summer reading lists from leaders such as former US President Barack Obama and Microsoft Co-founder Bill Gates shows that they too take a break from their regular work.

Take time to read and learn about different things, or try a new activity and give yourself an opportunity to refresh and recharge. Find time to exercise, take breaks and make the space to think clearly and logically. Walking to work, going for a swim or allowing the team some time off on a Friday afternoon all help in strengthening physical and emotional resilience to come back stronger as a leader.

Giving your staff permission to take breaks enables them to stay healthy and strong and will help you work more effectively as a team.

People, people, people

We all know that humans are social creatures. Even if you have an introverted personality, humans need some form of interaction with others. 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 your work networks. Supportive, optimistic and encouraging friends and family also 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 who display the characteristics you want to gain. When you network with other organisations, you are building support that can offer critique and opinion when you have a challenging situation. You can also learn from their experiences and offer support when they need help. Developing trust within your networks takes time, but the networks you build can offer invaluable support throughout your career.

Being a better leader requires ongoing development, including formal learning such as higher education and other training courses, in addition to informal learning in your everyday working environment. Realising that no one knows everything enables you to build a powerful team culture that learns from each other.

Emerging technology

emerging technology

Technology has irrevocably changed the way we do business, and indeed our lives too. It offers a plethora of opportunities to business leaders, including working with geographically disparate colleagues for a holistic business operation. It also offers powerful solutions when handling a crisis and allows teams to respond quicker than ever after a setback. Technology allows for flexible learning, studying online and upskilling.

In an ever-changing global operating environment, 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. Learning while working is the best way to implement lessons in a real-world environment and foster innovative thinking.

Looking to study business?

There has never been a better time to study business and learn to be a resilient leader. It will help you face the challenges ahead so you can build strong resilience in your team and in yourself. Contact an Enrolment Advisor to find out more about studying an online MBA on 1300 863 819.