Resilience: Leadership and Culture


Resilient businesses not only have great leadership, they have a great culture.

The right work culture celebrates mutual respect and understanding, open communication and shared values; it’s led from the top by decisive and active leadership, and undergirded by a strategy oriented to improvement.

Opportunities will be found by those that seek them. We have always needed to be planning for new horizons and re-imagining our businesses; now the pace has changed. Resilient businesses have the potential to be high-performing, they are able to go beyond business as usual and achieve something truly exceptional. These cultures see growth at all levels, and perhaps more importantly, the development of business and personal resilience. In a contracting economy, that resilience is what keeps a team working cohesively in pursuit of better.

“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” – Richard Branson

This is what we need for a better, stronger New Zealand. As we continue exploring the six pillars of business resilience, you can download our framework and rate your own business as part of our full report here.

Mental health and wellness

Our mental health and wellbeing are always important, but it becomes more of a challenge during a crisis. Uncertainty is unnerving and we’re seeing a generation of young people – perhaps those in their first job – who are facing concerns that are new to them. Many of them didn’t go through the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 as employees, and while we see some who are naïve about the challenges ahead, we see a lot who are incredibly anxious. These young people may not have the same level of responsibility yet, but they do have dreams – and economist Paul Krugman asserts that those who enter the workforce during a recession never recover from that setback.

Whatever the age of your workforce, the challenge for leaders is to communicate authentically during tough times and to value the importance of mental health and wellness. Consider:

  • Is there someone in your organisation responsible for workplace wellbeing?
  • Is there a wellbeing policy, and do staff get input into that policy?
  • Does your culture foster healthy relationships at work? Are colleagues encouraged to support each other? And is time allowed for connection and relationship building?
  • Do managers ensure a positive climate and express gratitude more often than criticism?
  • Are the jobs you are requiring people to do actually do-able?
  • Are the resources, materials, tools, facilities and support required readily available?
  • Do managers figure out alternative ways of achieving difficult deadlines, instead of simply insisting it needs to be done?
  • Are expectations clearly communicated and constructive feedback given?
  • Do people have the opportunity to learn and grow in their roles?
  • Is time for reflection, consideration and analysis accepted as a healthy part of the job?
  • Are breaks and leave actively supported?
  • Are your premises conducive to wellbeing – in terms of space, lighting, noise, distractions and cleanliness?

Employee engagement and core values

Your organisation’s core values are the essential and enduring tenets of your organisation – the things that drive you and that are never compromised, not for financial gain nor short-term expediency. Resilient businesses have strong core values – ones that hold up in even the most challenging of times. And while they may flow from the leadership level of an organisation, they’re adopted by every one of your people. The same flow applies to changes; only when the top team lives and breathes the changes it wants and expects from the organisation will the changes succeed.

That’s because, over time, it’s common for organisations to take on the characteristics of their leaders. Due to their position, leaders often cast a larger shadow than they realise. The role of a leader requires modelling the desired behaviours and letting others see the desired values in action. Bring them to life, make them believable and you’ll be much closer to gaining engagement.

Decisive leadership

Resilient businesses have a bias towards action, and many believe that the worst decision is no decision. They believe in failing forward – making a realistic assessment of risks and then moving quickly. In this way, leaders often set the pace. Visionary automaker, Lee Iacocca, said “The speed of the boss is the speed of the team.”

Leaders in resilient businesses also delegate more. They have others do more of the day-to-day work so that they can focus on making great decisions on the most important issues facing the business.

Strong governance or advisors

Now is not the time for seat-warmers. In the same way that most businesses can only afford to keep the A players in a tough environment, your advice network should be comprised of people willing to dig in and help the business. Strong governance and advisors make up the support systems around leaders to help them keep their view of the bigger picture. Importantly, they lend experience and perspective at a time that perspective may otherwise be challenged.

Communication structures

It’s common, when we’re under pressure, for communication to be compromised – however, in a crisis, our communications need to be better, not worse. It’s important to keep your people up to speed and share with them how the business is faring, what you’re focusing on, and how your teams are contributing to that. The complete picture helps your people understand what part they play, so make this practice intentional.

Resilient businesses front-foot communication with their people and structure it into their week, instead of firing off emails late at night when they find the time. A note from the CEO every Monday comes to be relied on by people for the information they need, whereas haphazard communications are disruptive, often confusing, and don’t show great leadership.

Empathy & self-awareness

When times are tough, we need empathy and self-awareness more than ever – especially in our leaders. Empathy is best understood as the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing, from within their frame of reference. And while some people are naturally more empathetic than others, everyone can take steps to increase their empathy by:

  • Cultivating curiosity about others
  • Challenging their own mindsets and prejudices
  • Walking a mile in another’s shoes – for leaders, this could look like hands-on work on the frontline
  • Practising active listening
  • In some cases, actually feeling the same emotions as the other person

Similarly, emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to understand and manage our own emotions and those of others around us. According to the experts, EQ is four times more powerful in predicting those who succeed in their field than IQ. People with a high degree of EQ know what they are feeling, what their emotions mean, and how their feelings can affect other people. EQ is linked to self-awareness – the ability to recognise your own emotions and their effect on performance. And self-awareness is always worth the effort, especially for leaders. Develop an awareness of your strengths and weaknesses, ask for feedback regularly, and, if needed, work to change one aspect of how you come across to others.

Resilience is the ability to weather uncertainty

It relies on building strong foundations and remaining agile. It’s founded in the determination to keep trying new things and doing whatever it takes.

Our operational realities – and the world as we know it – have changed. And when we come to the edge of all that we know, we have only one choice: stand our ground or build something better.

If you’re ready to move forward with certainty, head over to our website and download the latest Advisory.Works report Building Resilient Businesses for a Better New Zealand.

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