Lucy Brown takes a look at what is needed to lead a resilient organisation.

Leading a Resilient Organisation – My Initial Thoughts

While researching for this article, what struck me is that none of this is new. In fact, when I chose the strapline for my coaching and consultancy practice back in Autumn 2019, I settled on ‘resilience and well-being’. My key focus is on why it is important to consider the resilience and well-being of employees, to ensure we have a resilient and successful organisation.

From George S. Everly, Jr., writing in the Harvard Business Review in 20111, on Building a Resilient Organizational Culture; to Brent Gleeson in his 2017 article in Forbes2 – ‘How Leaders Build The Resilient Organizations Of Tomorrow’; the common theme is the human element of organisational success.

Gleeson highlights that ‘Resilient organisations have sound leadership at all levels and strong cultures founded on trust, accountability, and agility. They have a foundation of meaningful core values, that all members of the team believe deeply in and a sense of team unity beyond what you find in many organizations.’

Today’s Complex ‘VUCA’ world

Everly surmised that, ‘Consistent with the “Law of the Few” described in Malcom Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, we believe key leadership personnel, often frontline leadership, appear to have the ability to “tip” the organization in the direction of resilience and serve as a catalyst to increase group cohesion and dedication to the “mission.”

Today’s complex ‘VUCA’ world brings with it even more turmoil in the shape of the global pandemic, the rapid advances of the 4th Industrial Revolution and, for the UK, layered on top of all that, Brexit!

How do Leaders Need to Adapt?

In a recent series of articles in Forbes3, Cindy Gordon explores the ways leaders need to adapt, to lead in the knife-edge world of Artificial Intelligence.  Cindy has defined 40 key skill domains that board directors and CEOs need to develop, to build world-class AI organisations.  These include Emotional and Social Intelligence skills and emphasise the need to work flexibly under changing conditions and contradictions.

To quote Cindy, ‘The reality with this skill/competency is everyone must be more agile and flexible to change work habits given industry dynamics. This has never been more true than in relationship to Covid-19, the global pandemic which has set some industries back ten years, while others propelled ahead to unprecedented growth levels.’

So yes, there is nothing new in leaders needing to steer the ship through choppy waters. The question today is what can we learn from the challenges we have faced in the past, and how do we need to adapt to pivot our businesses, and to build resilient organisations, primed to participate in a world of ‘unprecedented growth levels’?

What can we learn from the challenges?

Business organisations with a desire to grow, remain competitive, adapt to emerging technologies, and find new ways to manage multi-generational work forces, must all discover new ways of building resiliency into the culture. Resiliency is the key to successfully leading lasting change.

Gleeson identifies 15 fundamental pillars on which all resilient organisations are founded.

  1. They have a focused sense of urgency and anticipate change well. They believe a little bit of paranoia is a good thing. They are always looking to the horizon for opportunity and threats. Complacency does not exist.
  2. They see beyond what other organizations would see as limitations and have an anything-is-possible mindset.
  3. They actively weave accountability into the fabric of the culture. And it starts at the top.
  4. They delegate leadership responsibility and authority down the change of command. They give decision making capability to frontline staff and provide the resources for rapid execution.
  5. They don’t waste time on activities that can’t be measured. They invest in the strongest areas of the business and improve or eliminate the weak areas.
  6. They exist in a constant state of transformation and reset goals every few years. Every time they do, they set a clear time-bound vision and communicate it regularly. Information is disseminated quickly, and they involve as many people as possible in mission planning.
  7. Once they have the vision and mission well defined, they stay the course as long as market conditions and data support it. If not, they adjust.
  8. They embody a people-first approach. People, then customers, then shareholders … in that order.
  9. Resilient teams attract, empower, and retain courageous people willing to do bold things.
  10. They bounce back from adversity stronger than before. They tackle challenges head-on and always take the fight to the enemy.
  11. They think and act horizontally. They actively break down vertical and horizontal silos and approach work and communication cross-functionally.
  12. They self-correct quickly and adapt before problems become unmanageable.
  13. Resilient organizations are made up of lifelong learners. They encourage transparent feedback and use that data to constantly improve the business. They give everyone a voice.
  14. They never allow nor reward mediocrity. Performance expectations are clearly defined, and they always recognize and reward above-and-beyond behaviour.
  15. Resilient teams define excellence as the constant pursuit of perfection. They are never satisfied with the status quo.

Right now, I propose that No. 8 and 9 are critical.

New Dynamics

With the rapid changes to the dynamics of how people work, the integration of work and life – with working from home, home schooling, less support infrastructures available – ensuring that our people are coping, are well – physically and mentally – feel supported, feel that they are in the right role, the right team, the right organisation, and can add real value, has never been more important.

Join us on 18th March to develop this theme and learn how you, as a leader, can proactively change the culture of your organisation to respond in more agile, flexible ways.  Our short webinar (12:00 GMT) will look at all these issues and provide some key insights into what is happening in organisations around the world, and what you can do about it.

Contact Lucy at [email protected].

Our webinar focused on leading resilient organisations is on 18 March 2021

Please get in touch or book a free discovery call. We’d love to chat.


1 Building a Resilient Organizational Culture – George S. Everly, Jr.

2 How leaders Build The Resilient Organizations of Tomorrow – – Brent Gleeson

3 Building AI Leadership Brain Trust – Cindy Gordon