Resilience is not a one-dimensional response

Resilience Leadership Corporate

by Vijhai Utheyan

COVID-19 has been the most disruptive force to businesses since the global financial crisis (GFC).

Acting as a non-executive director for two organisations I have seen first-hand the issues company directors face in crises like this, along with the major consequences for staff and other stakeholders. COVID-19 has forced board members, including myself to make difficult decisions, including standing down employees, downsizing, investing in our digital expertise and capacity and adjusting our future outlook.

Few companies were truly prepared for this crisis, and as markets hurtle towards an inevitable recession, many have had to focus primarily on survival.

Managing risks and leveraging opportunities

It is important to note that the business landscape and many economies are now in a state of transition. How companies act now will likely deem their fate during the recovery.

Tirian has worked with Fortune 500 companies internationally through a number of global crises, including the GFC and the SARS epidemic. We know from history that stretching to meet competing demands through the post-pandemic business environment can lead to gaps, where new innovative ideas are needed to assist with market recovery.

While we are still unclear exactly what these gaps might look like this time around, it will undoubtedly involve working in a more fast-paced, interconnected and disruptive environment that brings significant risk but also incredible opportunities to change the way we all do business.

It is critical in these conditions that we capitalise on these capabilities to become more resilient to such disruptions.

The role of resilience

Resilience is a term that has been creeping into the corporate vernacular for some time, and as a result of this pandemic, it is more relevant than ever. Yet few understand the unique meaning of the concept in the organisational context.

Enterprise resilience is not about making your organisation immune from change rather, it is about developing the capacity to anticipate and react to change. Not only to survive but to evolve.

This form of resilience seeks to answer the question of how to identify what the future may hold and is about adapting to prepare for a range of possibilities. It is about understanding how strategic planning can assist with managing risk and future uncertainty along with realising the opportunity. It is not a one-time deal. It takes practice, discipline, change and commitment.

Resilience requires a paradigm shift. By not only building a culture of adaptation but also identifying and capturing known risks and opportunities, organisations can learn to navigate the unknown and leverage on disruption to their advantage.

Strategies for responding in real time

Resilient leaders and their organisations will be able to not only manage the immediate effects of a crisis, but they must be able to anticipate the impacts they will have on the future business environment, such as on competition, social change, political instability, workforce mobility and the increase in digital technology needs. Companies will need able to respond in real-time to any opportunity that arises in the process.

According to Dr Gaia Grant’s research with the University of Sydney Business School into how innovative companies cope with a crisis, resilient leaders typically exhibit three critical qualities. This research is based on being embedded as an ethnographic observer in organisations over a period of 2 years and longer:

  • Ambidextrous : Resilient leaders can stretch to deal with competing demands as the need arises. Though these paradoxical demands may seem contradictory, they need to be managed with simultaneously. This can, for example, involve looking for both breakthrough new solutions while simultaneously incrementally developing systems and structures to support sustainable development.
  • Agile: Resilient leaders can rapidly shift between polar positions. Mathematicians, jazz musicians and dancers are highly disciplined and incrementally develop new skills through consistent, dedicated training yet can also build on these foundational skills to come up with innovative new responses. Brain scans show they can rapidly switch their thinking between these two modes. Similarly, agile leaders can rapidly shift their thinking and actions between these modes.
  • Aligned: Resilient leaders build complementary teams to cover all bases. Although individuals typically have a preference for either looking to the horizon for the breakthrough ideas or more gradual incremental development, complementary teams aligned around a strong core purpose can embody all positions simultaneously for greater resilience.

True resilience is not a one-dimensional response – it requires a multidimensional approach that will best cope with the tensions of competing demands of our current rapid change complex context.

How ambidextrous, agile and aligned are you and your organisation?

If you are interested in building your company’s resilience and developing yourself or your company as a future-ready ‘Innovative Change Leader’ through the iCLi profile tool click on the links below.

  1. White Papers: For more details on the research behind being an Ambidextrous, Agile, and Aligned leader download the White Papers here:
  2. Innovative Change Leader (iCLi) Profile Measure: Identify your leadership strengths and gap areas here:
  3. Coaching training and accreditation program: See this video to find out more on how to become an accredited Future-Ready Leadership Coach for bringing resilient leadership to your organisation:

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