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Building Organizational Resilience Through Leadership

Kevin Nourse, PhD,
January 1, 2021
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We consider resilience a skill or quality people can develop to navigate challenging times. However, organizational leaders can play a significant role in the ability of their direct reports to build and sustain their resilience in the face of adversity. 

A recent study in Group and Organization Management found that transformational leaders contribute to the capacity of their followers to increase their resilience by evoking positive emotions. The researchers polled people in several Canadian healthcare organizations facing a significant crisis, and participants were members of clinical teams and their managers. The positive emotions experienced by the employees contributed to greater levels of creativity in solving challenging problems in the crisis, resulting in enhanced self-confidence. Among the behaviors transformational leaders use 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 significant change at the senior leader level, which resulted in frustration, disillusionment, and disengagement among middle managers and staff. The leadership development project 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.

The factors staff identified as detrimental to their resilience were needing more 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: 

  • Increasing the experience of positive emotions through transformational leader behaviors, including supporting their teams and modeling resilient behavior. 
  • Decreasing the experience of negative emotions by identifying and eliminating their sources, such as removing confusion about goals, improving the efficiency of core work processes, and recalibrating the workload of staff. 

While a leader's role in sustaining their followers' resilience is becoming more apparent, researchers need to explore various factors, such as the impact of gender, 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 kevin@nourseleadership.com

(c) 2020 Kevin Nourse

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