Different dimensions of resilience for a successful leadership

leadership through resilience

There is a significant difference between the concept of resilience for those who are starting their career or are in its course, and for those who have already reached top leadership positions. 

Those at the latter stage have already faced many challenges where their resilience has been greatly tested, and their resistance to high pressure has been proven, although “at high peaks, the wind blows much stronger”.

One type of resilience that requires great care is resilience to success. Being in positions of high decision-making power and leading many people can open doors to other types of pressures, which are often not recognized. For example, many executives lose their ability to listen to their teams. These individuals can develop what we call “The Putin Syndrome”. 

Paul Krugman, economist, Nobel laureate in an article in the New York Times in which he commented on the disastrous start of the war in Ukraine stated:

“Part of the answer undoubtedly lies in the strongman syndrome: Putin has surrounded himself with people who only tell him what he wants to hear.”

False sense of independence

Leadership can bring a false sense of independence and total knowledge of the decisions to be made, causing the executive to stop listening to his team, collaborators, or even customers… an important point of resilience to be developed.

Another personal situation of resilience is when we need to maintain our moral and ethical compass, always pointing to the correct North, without being carried away by “magnetic forces” that will divert the pointers of this compass to totally undesirable situations.

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Scandals and frauds

This is how all corporate scandals, accounting fraud, embezzlements, which are vast in today’s news, begin. Even acts that we judge small and that will eventually be invisible.

There are countless global cases where problems occurred at high levels of leadership. For example, Wirecard, the German payment processor and financial services provider, admitted in June 2020 that €1.9 billion was missing from its accounts, leading to insolvency. The CEO, Markus Braun, resigned and was subsequently arrested, facing charges of fraud and other irregularities. Other examples follow.

Wells Fargo, a large U.S. bank, faced extensive scrutiny and legal consequences after it came to light in 2016 that employees had created millions of fraudulent savings and checking accounts on behalf of Wells Fargo clients without their consent. The scandal led to fines and major changes within the company’s executive suite.

Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges in 2020 related to the company’s role in the U.S.’s devastating opioid crisis. The company admitted to impeding the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and paying illegal kickbacks to both doctors and an electronic healthcare records company.

This type of resilience is extremely important, as the name and reputation are the greatest asset of an executive. These and many other cases occurred with top-level executives, proving that this moral compass must be present from the beginning to the end of a career.

Importance of resilience

With all the current and modern management techniques, we still see a huge number of dictatorial managers, who did not know how to have resilience to their own progress, creating styles of leadership very different from those with which they started their careers. Such behaviors often lead to disrespect in the treatment of their teams, great difficulties in delegating and constant losses of their own emotional self-control.

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T.A Shippey cited that “We all recognize, at least in our best moments, that much harm comes from our own imperfections, sometimes terribly amplified…”. This means that our resilience begins first within ourselves, so that we are then prepared for exterior resistance.

An individual with great difficulty controlling their own emotions will hardly create resilience to a difficult relationship in the workplace or even with a customer.

Toxic workplace

For example, in 2017, Uber was heavily criticized for its corporate culture, which was described as aggressive and unrestrained. This came to light following a blog post by a former employee, Susan Fowler, who detailed a workplace culture that enabled sexual harassment and gender discrimination. The fallout led to an internal investigation, and the resignation of several high-ranking executives, including CEO Travis Kalanick.

The #MeToo movement has had a significant impact on how businesses handle cases of harassment and misconduct.

This type of resilience must be very well developed so that high horizons of authority do not lead to low horizons of respect and self-control at all levels of corporate relationship.

When we are in the spotlight, other opportunities may arise for very tempting positions, but without our own deep analysis, we are buying a very attractive gift at the cost of a solid future. The vision of risk can be hindered by temporary high-altitude fog.

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A high-profile example in Europe of an executive who was hired from another company and later lost his job is Jean-Marc Janaillac, who was the CEO of Air France-KLM. Before joining Air France-KLM, Janaillac was the CEO of Transdev, a French international public transport company.

Janaillac took the helm at Air France-KLM in 2016, hoping to resolve labor disputes that had plagued the airline for years. 

In 2018, he proposed a pay deal to Air France staff, which was rejected by employees after a consultation deemed as a “vote of confidence.” Following the rejection, Janaillac announced his resignation in May 2018, saying that the strikes had left Air France in a financially precarious situation.

Overconfidence can blind our discernment about which battles are worth fighting, when to advance, when to maintain the status quo of a situation, or even when to back down. Great generals in history have had heavy losses due to overconfidence in their own forces, underestimating the forces of their enemies.

In the time of caravels, the calm could be as deadly as a storm. An important type of resilience is the one we need to develop against situations of total accommodation, when everything seems to be going very well, when prolonged routine of a function or position is present, combined with a lack of personal or business future perspective. A resilient spirit not only creates resistance in difficulties but restlessness when everything is too calm.

We thus return to our beginning. While for a long time in our careers we are preparing with resilience for external factors, when reaching high positions, the need for resilience to internal factors, of our own being, is reinforced. This may be the most difficult type of resilience to be created.