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Resilient Leadership – What It Means And What Is Often Missing

Written by: Lars Friedrich, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Why solely focusing on building and improving resilience is only one element of ongoing and much-needed successful leadership development, and what other ingredients need to be considered?

For several reasons, resilience has become such a hyped and overused buzzword, especially for professional leadership development in entrepreneurial & corporate environments.

Frequently and repeatedly publicised by numerous claimed experts on this subject in articles, books & podcasts, verbalised during interviews, keynotes & TEDx talks, and diversely marketed via coaching, master courses, classes & programs.

But why does it seem that they often don't really mean, talk or write about resilience and instead tend to mix it up with persistence?

To make my statement more plausible, I use some of my practically gained first-hand leadership experiences as a former Tier 1 Operator in the Special Forces before transferring them to entrepreneurial & corporate workplaces.

The Need For Peak Performance

In Special Forces, due to the delicate nature of the profession, it is imperative to maintain a constant level of performance, especially as a leader, which, in fact, is peak performance.

So having the ability to perform at optimal levels physically, mentally & emotionally while being clear on what it is to achieve and what is essential while focusing on priorities.

And as an Operator, this means that you are training and practising under the conditions of all the expected, known or unknown environments of probable future scenarios.

That's the reason for the chosen credo: "Train As You Fight, Fight As You Train!" as a clear and committed statement of professionalism.

Because in any real mission, there is no substitute for professional leaders who, through repeated practice, have developed the experience and the physical, mental & emotional skills and ability to react quickly and decisively to achieve the set parameters, aka goals.

All of this in unforeseeable, chaotic, fast-paced and ever-changing environments with stress levels constantly through the roof and frequent leadership decisions to be made to adapt to all the upcoming changes.

Due to that, endurance, perseverance, persistence and resilience are not only other fancy and over-theorised textbook words but daily experienced, trained, practised and lived realities to maintain the needed peak performance as a leader.

Definitions For Clarity

And without a doubt, all of the mentioned points are 100% transferrable to positions of leadership & authority in entrepreneurial & corporate environments.

For more clarity and to avoid any possible confusion and misunderstanding about the meaning and differences between those words, let me give you the following definitions from dictionaries in alphabetical order.

  • Endurance is the much-needed ability to withstand hardship or adversity and sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity and is a skill that can be trained physically but with limitations for emotional & mental endurance depending on the individual's capacity.

  • Persistence is a personality trait that means continuing an opinion or course of action despite difficulty or opposition. In addition, persistence refers to perseverance despite fatigue or frustration.

  • Perseverance is the steady persistence in the course of action, a purpose, or a state, especially despite difficulties, challenges, obstacles, or discouragement and is often linked to achieving a set goal.

  • Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties and the ability to mentally or emotionally cope with a crisis or return to pre-crisis status quickly, commonly known as "bouncing back". It's a skill and the use of mental processes and behaviours to promote personal assets and protect the self from the potential adverse effects of stressors. But, like endurance, it also depends on the individual's capacity and limitations.

The Significant Difference

So while persistence will keep you going when the going gets tough, resilience will help you get back up, to bounce back, when knocked off course, and they're both aspects of the same drive to move forward.

Persistence is about steadfastly refusing to give up or let go. And without resilience, you won't be able to be persistent.

But – and this is the significant factor for achieving results and in any perceived or real survival situation – without persistence as a personality trait and the ability to take a course of action, all built resilience as a skill leads to nothing!

Because training with active practice and repetition can teach skills, but without the specific personality traits present to fuel the interest and energy, it may never transfer to the desired action.

And numerous research has shown that people are indeed able to regulate their personalities to exhibit the behaviour they need, as it is possible to change personality traits through persistent intervention and significant life events. Still, they need to be intrinsically – so by themselves, not others – motivated to expend the emotional labour to do so.

That's why I made my statement that there often seems to be a mix-up of resilience and persistence at the beginning, and I hope those definitions and the differentiation made it plausible.

Leading By Example

Sadly, and often primarily due to a lack of practical first-hand experience and the active application of those words in their lives, it turns out that far too many people are not the resilience experts they say they are, which leads to a lack of exemplary leadership.

"The three most important ways to lead people are: by example, by example, by example." Albert Schweitzer

Because isn't it imperative for every leader not only to know the meaning and difference of those words but to lead by example while actively and practically applying them, as all of them are equally important?

And executing them means sustaining leadership by example under pressure and in stressful situations while coping with often unforeseeable disruptive changes. Followed by adapting to resulting setbacks and bouncing back to overcoming significant difficulties and challenges without engaging in dysfunctional behaviour or harming others.

Resilient Leadership

The "4R Resilience Framework", based on the research and book¹ of Professor Michel Bruneau, University of Buffalo, US, is my current favourite transferred reference for the characteristics of leadership resilience.

  • Robustness - the physical, mental & emotional strength and ability of a leader to resist and endure any internal or external foreseeable and unforeseeable impact.

  • Redundancy - given that we have experienced and suffered some impact, the ability to substitute available resources or undertake alternative processes to regain a functioning status quo.

  • Resourcefulness - the characteristic of tenacious response to and creative solutions for a sudden problem, challenge or disaster by being adaptive or agile.

  • Rapidity - the ability to quickly restore operations after the storm has passed as a function of the other factors. And if the other three have not been installed as a skill or even a trait before, it takes much longer to get going again.

Evidently, for all those multiple internal and external challenging leadership tasks at hand, resilient leadership is needed, but without persistence, there is none!

Solely focusing on building and improving resilience is only one element of ongoing and much needed successful leadership development in entrepreneurial & corporate environments.

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Lars Friedrich, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Lars Friedrich is an expert in personal & professional leadership transformations refined with a touch of Zen. As a former Officer & Special Forces Operator, executive in international & intercultural corporate positions and founder of his boutique business, he has vast accumulated experience, expertise & knowledge in leadership, resilience, endurance, commitment, persistence & dedication. Furthermore, Lars Friedrich trained in traditional Japanese Martial Arts for 42 years and frequently travels to Japan for his ongoing tuition, which amplifies his experience. With family ties & homes in Australia, Finland & Germany, he is proudly serving & guiding male & female leaders via shared knowledge & passion.



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