In the modern workplace, resilience is a highly prized quality. It is seen as especially valuable as one of the key qualities of strong leadership.
However, as Mark Cushway, leadership coach, entrepreneur and motivational speaker explains, resilience can become a business risk, when too much of it becomes a bad thing.
“We see examples in political leadership where the line seems to blur between resilience and belligerence, and one of the big risks of resilience is that it can make people become overly persistent, seeking to reach goals that are unrealistic.”
The Importance of Resilience
“Everyone has a breaking point, and this is true of leaders when they must cope with pressure and stress. What is important is how you bounce back from the difficulties you encounter.”
Resilience is important at both an individual and an organisational level. It is about having a good sense of recovery and adaptation
“It is a wide area really, covering a range of definitions, but essentially it means successfully adapting to what life throws at you in adverse conditions.”
In leadership terms, it is especially valuable in times of change.
“We can all face difficulties arising from change. This is a human condition. Difficulties vary from being a short, sharp shock to something that has accumulated over time. Resilience is about how well we recover from these difficulties.”
When Resilience Goes Wrong
While resilience depends on a degree of hardship to work and develop, like most things, too much of it can tip the scales the wrong way.
“It is like an athlete or bodybuilder honing their physique. You can take it too far, where you then put a strain on your heart. An overused strength then becomes a weakness.”
There are two ways, especially, this can manifest itself with resilience:
- One is an unrealistic expectation about outcomes in difficult circumstances, where resilience keeps leading you in one direction even though all the signals are that it will result in a dead end
- Another is a kind of addiction to adversity
“One result is a willingness to put up with poor working conditions, another is to do the equivalent of trying to drive yourself through a brick wall, which can then mean you develop coping mechanisms that are overly aggressive.”
This is not just bad for the individual, but can be harmful at an organisational level.
“It can make leaders both resistant to change and unaware of their own limitations. Psychologically speaking, they seek to protect themselves by moving away from groups to avoid the sense of rejection that criticism brings.”
Consequently, the leader can then become isolated from the rest of the organisation.
The Impact on Negotiating
If resilience can sometimes inhibit an individual’s ability to see themselves clearly and realistically, then it follows that it may have a negative impact on their negotiating capabilities.
“When your approach across the table, is one of unstoppable force, if you encounter an unmovable object, what happens next? What if your resilience blinds you to looking at alternatives and severely hampers any strategic manoeuvring?”
“Many leaders are resilient, but some may be too resilient. They may become too focused on impossible goals, or too tolerant of unpleasant circumstances. Either is counterproductive”
“Leaders need to find the true measure of their resilience, by understanding how they react in different kinds of difficult circumstances,” Mark concludes.
Resilience has the potential to be a hugely valuable quality. But it’s about getting the balance of it right.
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