Bouncing Forward: The Resilient Leaders’ Mindset

James de Gaspé Bonar

May 03, 2020

As we all struggle to come to grips with the human and economic devastation caused by the ongoing evolving COVID-19 pandemic, the most insightful leaders are identifying ways forward. They are adept at adapting their organizations’ established contingency measures to the unprecedented existential challenges they are facing. They reinvent themselves and their organizations. They have a roadmap to create a new corporate culture capable of surviving the crisis and ultimately to thrive. These leaders require emotional intelligence (see my March 29 article, Managing in Times of Crisis).

Resilient leaders’ mindset: Leading an organization or a team is very difficult at the best of times. It takes resilience, patience and coping skills. All the more so today with the extraordinary pressures and stress leaders are facing during this time of exceptional disruption. Resilient leaders maintain a positive attitude and a strong sense of opportunity, urgency and purpose. When faced with ambiguity, they find ways to move forward. They choose to see even the direst crises as potential opportunities. They are bold and they understand the timeless wisdom of the African proverb that “tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” 

Bouncing forward: Resilient leaders lead by example. They are fully present, authentic, optimistic and positive. Their mindset can be characterized as “bouncing forward” from difficult experiences. They recognize that they must nurture their personal resilience by taking proper care of themselves (including, proper nutrition, sleep, exercise and overall wellbeing) with discipline and accountability. The support of an accountability buddy or coach is often required.
They cultivate their teams’ resilience by:
  • Instilling confidence among staff that tasks must be completed as a team
  • Fostering a mental model of team work, focused on specific goals and each member’s role in achieving them.   
  • Responding immediately and effectively to issues as they arise
  • Improvising and developing new ways of handling adversity in real time
  • Trusting team members to do the right thing; encouraging differing points of view while respecting boundaries.
Team resilience is all the more important today due to physical distancing and working remotely at home. Human interaction, even at a distance, is crucial. For example, a leader’s caring attention to team members’ family challenges (a restless or sick child, a dying parent, or perhaps marital problems) can reinforce the individual and the team’s overall resilience.
Purpose, vision and communication: Organizations that will emerge from the COVID-19 trauma and thrive are resilient, innovative and bold. Their leaders have a strong sense of purpose. They embrace a reality greater than themselves. This creates the sharp focus that leads to effective, practical and transformational results. They have a compelling, well-thought-out and achievable vision of emerging new realities. These leaders are skilled change managers. They communicate their vision clearly and convincingly to their stakeholders. They manage successfully the balance between affording their staff greater autonomy and ensuring accountability. Team members see a concrete way forward. They have hope. This motivates and mobilizes them to embrace their leaders’ vision and to implement their directives.