We usually think about resilience as a skill or quality people can develop to navigate tough times. However, organizational leaders can play a major role in the ability of their direct reports to build and sustain their resilience in the face of adversity. This is particularly true now as so many organizations are struggling to navigate the COVID pandemic.
A recent study in Group and Organization Management found that transformational leaders contribute to the capacity of their followers to navigate adversity by evoking positive emotions. The researchers polled people working in several Canadian healthcare organizations that were faced with a significant crisis. Participants were members of clinical teams and their managers. Positive emotions are linked to greater levels of resilience. The positive emotions experienced by the employees are believed to contribute to greater levels of creativity in solving tough problems in the crisis, resulting in enhanced self-confidence. Among the behaviors used by transformational leaders that trigger these positive emotions are a positive vision of the future, confidence in subordinates' abilities to tackle the challenges created by the crisis and reinforcing core values.
The findings of this study are consistent with a resilience-building program I implemented for a healthcare client. The client was experiencing a significant amount of change at the senior leader level which resulted in frustration, disillusionment, and disengagement among middle managers and staff. The training intervention consisted of three parts: (1) an electronic survey of staff attitudes about the challenges they faced and factors that helped or diminished their ability to remain resilient, (2) a training session for the managers in the department on resiliency and exploration of the survey themes, (3) a training session for staff in the department on resiliency-building strategies and concepts. Among the factors that staff identified as having a detrimental effect on their resiliency were a lack of clarity and direction, inefficiencies in core work processes, and overwhelming workload. The primary theme associated with sustaining the resiliency of staff was the support provided by managers and role modeling (managers modeled resilience for their direct reports).
Both the study and my client intervention align with the theme of leaders playing a critical role in shaping the resilience of their staff from two perspectives:
While the role of leaders in sustaining the resiliency of their followers is becoming clearer, more research needs to be done to better understand various factors such as the impact of gender, the role of peer relationships, and the nature of the challenge or adversity that people are experiencing.
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Dr. Kevin Nourse has more than 25 years of experience developing transformational change leaders in healthcare and other sectors. He is the founder of Nourse Leadership Strategies, a coaching and leadership development firm based in Southern California. For more information, contact Kevin at 310.715.8315 or firstname.lastname@example.org
(c) 2020 Kevin Nourse