Article: What are the characteristics of a resilient leader and workplace?

Life @ Work

What are the characteristics of a resilient leader and workplace?

As we enter into the second quarter of 2021, it’s worth considering again what resilience actually looks like, along with the benefits to leaders and organisations who cultivate this particular characteristic, and how we can all afford to be more resilient looking ahead.
What are the characteristics of a resilient leader and workplace?

Resilience is often defined as the ability to recover quickly from adversity or bounce back from challenging times. Last year was marked by such adversity, with the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s fallouts placing untold pressures on both organisations and individuals across the globe and creating an environment in which resilience was more necessary than ever. Arianna Huffington even named ‘resilience’ her word of the year, writing that “unlike quarantine and coronavirus and social distancing, resilience is the only one that’s going to be just as relevant when the pandemic is over. Resilience is the quality that was summoned in us by all the challenges of 2020. And it’s also the quality that’s going to carry us forward into 2021.” 

As we enter into the second quarter of 2021, it’s worth considering again what resilience actually looks like, along with the benefits to leaders and organisations who cultivate this particular characteristic, and how we can all afford to be more resilient looking ahead. 

Resilience & Leadership 

A recent report by BetterUp entitled, ‘Resilience in an Age of Uncertainty,’ defines resilience as “both our ability to emerge from struggle without harm and also describes the potential for that struggle to catalyze growth.” By their definition, resilient professionals:  

  • Invest in their relationships and display empathy 
  • Approach challenges or setbacks with the appropriate mindset
  • Mitigate disruption through their behaviours
  • Have an agile, optimistic way of thinking 
  • Are willing to persevere through challenging circumstances
  • Have the ability to collaborate, influence, and communicate 
  • Have a continuous focus on personal growth
  • Have effective coping strategies and a commitment to proactive stress management.
  • Utilize coaching and development resources more effectively and more frequently

In a leadership capacity, the data shows resilient leaders have a ‘multiplier effect’ on their teams, with direct reports of highly resilient managers displaying 2.7 times the resilience of those working under low resilience managers. This trickle-down effect brings immense value to the organisation as a whole: “When we asked the direct reports of these highly-resilient team leaders to evaluate their teams, we found that their teams have higher overall performance, are more agile, and are more innovative than individuals who work with team leaders with low resilience,” said BetterUp researchers, adding this was a proof of the “cascading, group-level impacts that highly-resilient leaders have on their teams.” 

Resilience & Innovation 

Resilient professionals were also shown to be around 20% more creative in their team work. “Our data reveals that innovation thrives where teams and leaders value and demonstrate resilience,” noted the report. “In contrast, we see creativity falter in psychologically-fragile environments. As companies strive for innovation to achieve growth through challenging market conditions, this finding provides compelling evidence that highly-resilient individuals are an untapped source of creativity and ingenuity in the workforce.” 

The study also uncovered a number of key indicators that highly-resilient managers and employees are a huge asset to organisations:  

  • There was a 31% difference in job productivity between the most resilient workers and the least resilient workers during the pandemic. 
  • Resilient individuals were 78% less likely to leave their company.
  • Resilient individuals were 52% less likely to experience burnout. 
  • Companies with a more resilient workforce had a 42% higher annual return on assets. 

Resilience & The Hybrid Workplace 

As organisations around the world contemplate when to return their teams to the workplace and in what capacity, it might be worth considering the ways in which a hybrid model can boost resilience. According to a new Fujitsu report entitled ‘No Going Back?’, the majority of both UK C-suite (85%) professionals and employees (71%) say hybrid working will make their organisation more resilient and better able to survive economic hardships. 

John Pink, Managing Director, Private Sector, Fujitsu UK called this a “brave new world” of working, commenting that “a hybrid working model gives people the flexibility they need to do their best work and live their best lives.” Pink added that “it’s an irreversible work life shift, and we’ve all made it in some way. Employees are desperate to prove that they can be just as productive from home.” 

The sudden pivot to remote work last year undoubtedly created disruptions, but also proved just how resilient and adaptable the world’s workforce could be when asked to change their entire operation overnight. Looking ahead, the lessons learned from this time - and the evidence that work-from-home models can and will be successful if handled correctly - is one of the key cases for how hybrid can make organisations more resilient. 

How to cultivate resilience? 

The good news is resilience can be learned, practiced and taught. According to data in the BetterUp report, for example, individuals who begin low on resilience track an average of 125% growth in resilience with just three to four months of coaching support. BetterUp also recommend Five Key Strategies to cultivate more resilience: 

  • Promote wellbeing at all levels - provide financial, emotional, social and physical support wherever possible 
  • Foster a culture of resilience through your leaders - identify leaders who embody resilience and put them on the frontlines 
  • Model after the profile of high resilience - make resilient behaviours central to every stage of the talent lifecycle
  • Make change personal - reconsider L&D initiatives to provide individualized and data-driven opportunities. 
  • Take resilience out of the mystery box - resilience can be tracked and made tangible through pulse checks and indexing in your organisation 


As these reports highlight, the current time we’re living through is offering a true test of resilience, pushing at the limits of financial, emotional, mental and physical wellbeing. To create an environment that enables rather than constrains a resilient way of being, leaders could consider providing employees with a flexible, hybrid work, modelling resilient qualities such as empathy and effective stress-management, and implementing more individualized coaching opportunities that help to develop these resilient behaviours. 


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Topics: Life @ Work

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