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How can leaders develop resilience in their followers or teams?

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The following is the winning essay by Suzanne Viant from The Sunday Times Leaders Scholarship competition.

Resilience can be defined as “the ability to bounce back from a negative experience with competent functioning” and is considered to be a process of gradual discovery of personal abilities. It exists in each and every one of us and can be learned and developed.

Leaders can play a key role in developing this ability within their teams and can build it through;

  • Establishing the right culture and behaviours
  • Adopting the right course of action for a situation
  • Providing the right development opportunities
<>Establishing the right culture

In order for resilience to be built, team members must be exposed to negative experiences in a way that will develop their self-confidence. The leader must first have the trust and confidence in themselves to enable this and manage the outcome. The role of the leader is to create an environment in which it is safe to fail and/or make a mistake. The mind-set that failure is an opportunity to learn and improve is something that must be embedded as part of the team culture and the leader must be competent in providing both reinforcing and developmental feedback to enable positive growth following set-backs.

In order to increase the team’s sense of self-efficacy, the leader must also create experiences of success on both an individual and group basis which builds confidence.

The culture should also reflect an individual’s need to self-regulate as they discover their unique abilities. Ensuring the team has a good work-life balance, space to reflect and opportunities to partake in fulfilling activities will only serve to increase resilience in teams.

As 80-90% of employee behaviour is attributable to the things leaders say and do, the leader must role model the attributes and behaviours of resiliency. Countering negative emotions with positive ones, avoiding seeing crises as unbearable problems and maintaining a positive outlook using a compelling vision are pivotal to setting the tone in which adverse situations are managed.

<>Adopting the right course of action

Whilst building the self-confidence and resilience within teams, it is essential the leader identifies and adopts the most appropriate course of action for any given situation. There will be occasions where the leader has the scope to establish realistic goals for the team to achieve. Where appropriate this action will demonstrate the leader’s confidence in the team’s ability to solve the problems themselves and follow through. However, there will of course be occasions where the leader is required to take decisive actions on behalf of the team and therefore, leaders are required to have sound situational judgement to build resilience effectively.

During periods of stressful activity, individuals with an under developed resilience may react with anger and/or negative emotions. The ability to help teams manage these strong feelings is essential for the leader in developing resilience.

<>Providing the right development opportunities

Providing the right interpersonal support to team members is also critical in helping to build resilience. A leader should be adept at providing positive reinforcement to their team and should also be au-fait with the tools and techniques available for developing others. Use of coaching, mentoring and self-directed learning can create powerful development opportunities for teams and continuously build on a broad set of skills, particularly around self-awareness and emotional intelligence. The use of reflection following a set-back can be enormously beneficial in helping teams to understand their trigger points, their reactions and how better to manage themselves in similar situations moving forward. Also, simply asking team members to re-frame negative statements into positive ones is a very effective way of creating positive emotions, which have a close affiliation with resilience.

<>Henley MA Leadership

The Henley MA Leadership is a truly inspiring and game-changing part-time leadership programme. Led by programme director Dr Jean-Anne Stewart, it was developed following extensive research at Henley into today’s leadership development challenges, and in consultation with a wide range of organisations.

This three-stage programme leads from Postgraduate Certificate to Postgraduate Diploma and culminates in an MA qualification. It is designed for anyone with significant leadership responsibilities, runs for 24 months, and is flexible to fit in with your current role.

From October 2019, the Henley MA Leadership programme can be funded through the Apprenticeship Levy.

Published 26 August 2018

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