Why leaders need to be resilient

In today’s business world, the pressure on leaders is always building up. How these leaders react to that pressure and translate it to the choices they make is imperative for a business to survive. This is even more significant in startups. The decisions of founders can potentially harm their entire organization. In some instances, they are unceremoniously replaced because of bad decisions.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, “Building a startup that will last,” the authors describe their observations of long-standing companies across various industries. They were able to identify several foundational elements that have contributed to the success of these companies.

Interestingly, the authors emphasize two components: pacing and perseverance. As an endurance athlete, I can relate to those two components. Also as a brain tumor warrior,  I personally have experienced first hand the need to be aware of pacing and perseverance. I agree with the HBR article premise; a marathon is a long event, just like building a company is a long event.

You cannot afford to go too fast or too slow. If you go, either way, you will not finish. You need to feed yourself wisely to maintain the energy required for the extended effort. And you need to understand that it is going to be difficult. However, you must also commit to getting to the finish line. Leaders need to be resilient.

Resilient Leaders are Better Leaders

We often think of resiliency from a personal perspective. For example, a person who just completed an Ironman Triathlon with prosthetic legs would be considered resilient. We rarely think of a leader who just finished a difficult year and succeeded. In fact, he became a better leader because of the experience he lived.

Some races are longer than a marathon. Take an Ironman Triathlon or a 100-mile endurance run, for example. Not only will you need pacing and perseverance, but you will also need others to support you.

If you feel good in a 100-mile endurance run, wait for a little, and if you feel bad, wait for a little, things will change.”

In any long event, whether it is a marathon, building a startup, or being successful in any endeavor, the one thing that will help you achieve a goal is resilience. Life is long enough that sooner or later things are not going to go as we planned or as we want them to go. How we prepare to cope with these eventualities will allow us to survive, bounce back, and/or thrive.

How to Help Leaders Build Resilience

Not everybody is a founder looking to build a startup that lasts, but everyone can get better. For example, a recently promoted leader, someone starting a new job, or taking over a new company, division, or a team will need to adapt and change to their new role. Resilience is not just useful for bouncing back; it is also how winners prepare to win and how they adapt to win.

Here are the four findings the authors were able to identify in several successful long-standing companies across various industries (column A). In column B, you can find a resilience principle that will help unlock the resilient individual within.

How to Build a Startup That Will Last Resilience Component
Articulate a value framework oriented toward societal impact, not just financial achievement. Solve for fulfillment, not just satisfaction.
Demonstrate the ability to execute second and third acts. Be open to being wrong and be able to pivot.
Move beyond founder-driven decisions to a scalable system of leadership. Build relationships and embrace diversity.
Have endurance. Plan for a marathon, then embrace the training.

To begin to shift the way we deal with challenging situations and begin to cultivate resilience to adapt and thrive, we need to understand what resilience is, then find ways to cultivate it. The HBR article, “Building a startup that will last,” shows specific behaviors that have been shown to have an effect on the health of the companies. Yet, resilience is an aggregate of skills and mindsets that cannot be taught or coached in isolation; rather, it is situational. In other words, for people to learn and change behavior, they must practice, reflect and experiment. So if you are training to do a marathon, you have to run; you cannot simply meditate your way to the finish line.

 

Luis Velasquez MBA, PhD

Luis is a leadership coach, employee engagement expert, and management trainer. Formerly a University professor and research scientist, Luis holds a dual Ph.D. from Michigan State University; and an MBA in Organizational Leadership.

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