Adaptive Resilience

July 08, 2020 Share this article:

By Tony Leng, Managing Director of Diversified Search and the heads up the Technology and Private Equity practices. He also leads the firm’s San Francisco office.

This blog was first published on Tony’s blog, to view the original post, click here

We have heard a lot about resilience lately. Pressure creates diamonds – fire removes the dross and builds character.

I would like to expand upon the fire analogy and share a few thoughts with you.

If a flame is weak and gets hit by a big wind – it goes out. It’s clearly not resilient.

But if the flame has protection (e. g. a glass dome) and a big gust comes up – the flame continues as normal. The conclusion is that protection mechanisms produces resilience. I stood strong in the storm and was unwavering! It looks strong – but is it?

I would like to introduce a third concept – Adaptive Resilience. This time, when the big gust comes, it fans the flame, and it burns brighter, spreads/flexes, becomes hotter, and more effective. This is an advanced form or resilience – we adapt, grow and change – we don’t just stand strong.

The character of leaders is being revealed during Covid-19. They are leading in extraordinary ways at an extraordinary pace. There is no playbook – great leaders are adapting quickly and showing enormous resilience. They have been doing hard things – that have involved layoffs, furloughs and other cost cutting measures. This is never easy, and if you have not earned the trust of your people, they can be damaging to culture.

As leaders, we need to work on both personal and professional resilience. They are clearly intertwined – because to do better, you often have to be better. Leadership characteristics that spring to mind are authenticity, inclusiveness, being aware of impact, listening, openness, humility, and vulnerability.

The dark side of my analogy is that fire is dangerous. If a fire gets out of control, it can burn down the house! There are clearly some restraints you need to put in place to keep your fire under control, and here are some counter-intuitive actions that demonstrate how leaders adapt and flex, to become more effective.

My top 2:

  • Strategic Patience. We are all going super-fast – we are in a crisis, but some things you can’t force, and leaders need to exhibit patience in the face of fear and panic. If you push too hard, you can burn the house down! So, you plant, you water, but you can’t harvest until it is ready.
  • Leaders can’t know everything and need to ask for help, flatten their leadership structures, and empower those deep in the organization to be creative. “Help me!” – is what it sounds like, and that is OK. Folks prefer to work for authentic leaders. Asking for help, and trusting the outcomes, builds loyalty and commitment.

How has Covid-19 refined you? Are you growing, flexing, burning brighter, being strategically patient and vulnerable? Or are you about to burn the house down?

What have your learned about yourself and where do you still need to grow?

Related Practice

Leadership Consulting