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Resilience: The “R” in the L.E.A.D.E.R.S. Model

The letter “R” in the L.E.A.D.E.R.S. Model stands for resilience, which literally means to “bounce back.”

  1. Effective leaders meet inevitable obstacles and setbacks with optimism and energy.

  2. Leaders employ emotional intelligence to help develop resilience in others.

  3. Leaders do not treat most failures as ultimate or terminal, but as learning experiences from which all can gain new insights to be applied in the future.

Resilience is that hard-to-explain human characteristic that gives people the ability to withstand and positively respond to the challenges of life. This resilience allows them to rebound from difficult circumstances and emerge ready to move forward with even greater resolve. Historically, resilience is often equated with those who experienced the Great Depression. The so-called “Greatest Generation” endured the tremendous economic and personal challenges present during those years and emerged ready to engage in the next ultimate challenge: World War II.

Today, resilience is considered an important individual as well as organizational trait and is especially relevant given the often chaotic and uncertain landscape in today’s corporate world. Resilience is one of the qualities of a “positive” organizational environment in which employees are much better suited to deal with the pace of change they face while continuing to work towards the fulfillment of their company’s vision and mission. It is this “bend but not break” attitude and behavior that enables employees to remain positive and productive while under the stress while ensuring organizational success.

Various studies have shown that individuals who are resilient are generally positive in their outlook. They believe their life, and life in general, has ultimate worth. Those who are resilient are more likely to accept their life circumstances, and are able to make do in whatever situation they may find themselves—figuratively to “turn lemons into lemonades” (Diane L. Coutu, Harvard Business Review, May, 2002).

An encouraging aspect of resilience is that it can be understood and developed regardless of one’s background or position within an organization. Those in leadership roles have a unique responsibility to create work environments that support the development and existence of resilience among co-workers. Leaders must model the behaviors of resilience by being positive and optimistic, fostering a climate of mutual support, and seeing failure (in themselves or others) as a learning experience. Leaders who encourage the growth of resilience make their organizations intrinsically-motivating places to work, especially during times of challenge and change.

There is more emphasis today on cognitive issues and practices when it comes to leadership and resilience. In other words, the practice of resilience starts with how people think. If they believe things will improve, for example, they can control their “self talk,” encouraging themselves that better days are ahead. Cognitive theory begins with the belief that one’s emotional state comes not from adversity but from one’s belief about adversity. For example, the U. S. Army instituted a program to build resilience by looking to develop three key areas in their recruits: mental toughness, signature strengths, and strong relationships. Drill sergeants, in particular, participate in this program first to build their own resiliency capacity and then to pass it along to those soldiers who are under their command (see Martin E.P. Seligman, “Building Resilience, Harvard Business Review, April, 2011).

Author Rich Fernandez recommends five practices that can increase resilience among individuals in organizations. These include “practicing mindfulness”—being aware of events and experiences as they occur; compartmentalizing work during the day—focusing on one particular task or assignment at a time, as opposed to multitasking; taking short breaks every hour and a half to two hours—stepping away from the task at hand to mentally refresh; develop the ability to respond not just react to difficult situations or people—the ability to pause, step back, reflect, shift perspectives, create options, and choose wisely; and cultivate compassion—both self-compassion and compassion for others (Rich Fernandez, Harvard Business Review, March, 2016).

Let’s look at one more point. Developing the capacity of resilience, both for leaders and their co-workers, is related to the level of emotional intelligence (EI) of those individuals. Emotional Intelligence has been a hot topic of discussion in leadership circles, so we will not go into much detail here. It is important to understand that emotional intelligence includes the notion of “self-awareness.” This trait includes knowing ourselves and managing our emotions; knowing the social needs of others; and managing social relationships by understanding the impact of what we do and say has on those relationships. EI gives us the ability to increase self-esteem, express thoughtful, active concern for others, and demonstrates the flexibility to adapt to changes that may bring difficult circumstance. Thus, as individual EI grows, so does resilience.

Dr. James Dittmar is the Founder, President, and CEO of the 3Rivers Leadership Institute which began in 2014.


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