Resilient Leadership: A Matter of Authenticity

By Dr. Jan Lüdert

Perception drives resilience

Norman Garmezy, a developmental psychologist and clinician at the University of Minnesota, is often credited for having pioneered the experimental study of “resilience” as a behavioral trait. His work, and of others who followed him, opened the door to research protective factors, or factors that enable individuals to be resilient despite many life challenges they face.

What this line of research clarified was that people with an “internal locus of control,” that is, those who believe that their own agency drives their life experiences instead of being at the whim of external circumstances, are more likely to be resilient in adverse situations.

In short, a central element of resilience is one’s own perception during trying times: Are you steering your ship in a wide ocean of possibilities or are the ocean’s currents taking control?

These insights surrounding resilience have an obvious bearing on leadership. Individuals who are able to frame adversity as a challenge that can be addressed are more likely to support flexible solutions, deal with obstacles, move forward, learn and grow. Individuals who perceive of adversity as an external threat may in turn revert to rigidity, become overwhelmed by obstacles, and stagnate.

Resilience can be learned

In fact, decades of research on resilience lend support to the notion that effective leadership is a set of skills that can be learned and taught.

One such skill that can be learned relates to a strong sense of self. Daniel Goleman, psychologist and author of the best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence, said that resilient leaders require a healthy dose of self-awareness, as well as an awareness of those around them to manage relationships and sustain change in the face of uncertainty.

The bonding agent between resilience and leadership is authenticity. Authenticity is not a static form of a true and unchanging identity, but is an identity which evolves with experience. Authenticity is our internal compass. It supports our ability to move forward and discover with purpose, and is not an anchor that keeps us moored to familiar shores.

Are you an authentic leader?

The connection between authenticity and resilient leadership is perhaps best grasped as a process of greater mindfulness. It is found in individuals who are able to understand their reactions and coping mechanisms, and how these impact others around them. These individuals are more likely to show resilience along with an ability to lead, and they are also likely to inspire those around them to take on new responsibilities and build a common sense of mission and values.

When it comes to effective leadership, there is no downside to becoming more authentic, nor is there one to become more resilient. Here’s a quote to contemplate from Confucius:

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

Learn more about the Doctor of Education in Leadership (Ed.D.) at CityU’s School of Applied Leadership.