Resilient Leadership


Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

This popular Churchillian quote emphasises the importance of resilience for leadership success. In a globalised world that is often characterised by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA), resilient leadership is required to overcome hardships and setbacks. Leaders, business and political leaders alike, are required to equip themselves with the qualities and skills necessary to navigate themselves and those they lead through adversity.[1]


The Resilient Leader

Resilience is explained as the ability to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions. In the context of leadership, resilience refers to the ability to bounce back, and lead effectively in the face of change, adversity and environments characterised by VUCA.

The true grit of a leader is how they perform during trying times. The quality in leaders that enables them to maintain composure – transmit such composure to those they lead – and make sound decisions during challenging times is resilience[2]. Resilient leaders are focused on the continued pursuit of goals despite adversity and as referenced in the Sir Winston Churchill quote above,  have the courage to continue in times of success and in times of failure.  They have a high tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty and importantly, inspire confidence in themselves and those they lead during adversity.

Building Resilience

Resilient leaders possess certain skills and characteristics that enable them to thrive under harsh conditions – some  are discussed below. Any leader or organisation aiming to building resilience must cultivate these attributes and skills.[3]

Positive outlook

It is the case of a half-glass full mindset. Resilient leaders are both realistic and optimistic. Realistic in the sense that they are well-grounded and do not have their heads in the clouds and optimistic to keep their sights set above the average person’s. Their optimism stems from the belief in their ability and the ability of their teams to overcome the current adversity and to create a positive future. Their focus quickly switches from adversity to solutions. Maintaining a positive outlook promotes emotional and mental well-being, which is required to overcome adversity. In the words of the accomplished military leader Colin Powell, “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier”.

Adaptability and Flexibility

Resilient leaders have the willingness to adapt or modify strategies to address adversity and view change as an opportunity to grow and innovate. They encourage those they lead to cultivate a similar adaptive mindset. This requires flexibility in the ways challenges are evaluated and responded to. There must be the willingness to compromise and be receptive to different perspectives and possibilities. During the COVID-19 pandemic, organisations had to adapt and introduced strategies like remote working and moving services online. This required flexibility in work schedules – with a corresponding flexibility on the part of both business leaders and employees. The World Economic Forum’s  “Future Jobs Survey 2023” listed flexibility among the top five most important skills for workers in 2023.[4]

Strong Emotional Intelligence

During periods of adversity and in VUCA environments, individuals become emotionally strained and resilient leaders must have the ability to manage their own emotions and those around them. Resilient leaders interpret and respond to the emotions and needs of themselves and those they manage. A high level of self-awareness and self-regulation is needed to build strong emotional intelligence. Resilient leaders are socially aware and manage relationships during adverse times. They read and make an effort to regulate the ‘temperature’ of the room. [5]

Problem-solving skills

At the heart of resilience leadership is problem-solving and a resilient leader is required to be skilled at identifying problems, critically analysing the problems and developing possible solutions to the problems. The resilient leader engages his team or followers to  chart the appropriate course of action for implementing the solutions. Problem-solving is on LinkedIn’s Top 10 Most In-Demand Skills for 2024.[6]

Strong Support Network

Resilient leaders build and maintain a strong support system around themselves and know when to reach out for assistance. The support network includes persons with expertise in areas that the leader lacks expertise and includes individuals that the resilient leader is comfortable sharing personal and professional problems with. The support network provides emotional support necessary to maintain a healthy state of mind. Maintaining a healthy mental disposition is crucial for making sound and long-term oriented decisions during turbulent times. The support structure provides alternative perspectives and valuable insights.

In addition to the above skills and attributes, resilient leaders develop effective communication skills, healthy stress management techniques and trust in the teams or groups they lead. They learn from failure and continuously learn and improve – innovation is paramount. Resilient leaders adopt a behavioural model known as VUCA Prime to overcome the challenges posed by VUCA. VUCA prime refers to Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility. Leaders adopting VUCA prime present those they lead with compelling vision to overcome volatility; explore and experiment to provide understanding to reduce uncertainty; simplify complexity to provide clarity and lead organisational agility to adapt approaches to overcome ambiguity.[7]



In the midst of growing uncertainty and adversity, resilient leaders come to the fore to steer their organisations to calmer waters and organisational sustainability. While it is important for leaders to be resilient, it is all the more important for them to foster resilient structures, systems and organisations. This ensures that in their absence, their enduring legacy is a resilient organisation that thrives in the face of adversity.


More than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails. That’s true in the cancer ward, it’s true in the Olympics, and it’s true in the boardroom.” . . . Dean Becker (Founder, Adaptive Learning Systems) [8]

[1] Leading Through Change: Building Resilience in Leadership Skills. October 25 2023. The Economic Times. Retrieved 15th April 2024

[2] Amy Modglin (2017-07-11) Why Resilience Is Necessary As A Leader. Retrieved 15th April 2024

[3] Matt Gavin (2019-12-17) How To Become A More Resilient Leader. Harvard Business School Online. Retrieved 16th April 2024

[4] World Economic Forum (2023). The Future of Jobs Report 2023.

[5] Lauren Landry (2019-04-03) Why Emotional Intelligence Is Important in Leadership. Harvard Business School Online. Retrieved 15th April 2024

[6] Dan Brodnitz  (2024-02-8) The Most In-Demand Skills for 2024. LinkedIn. Retrieved 15th April 2024

[7] Carol Mase (2023-09-18) VUCA Prime – A Leader’s Response. Management Library. Retrieved 15th April 2024

[8] Coutu, D. L. (2002). How Resilience Works. Harvard Business Review, 80(5), 46–55 Retrieved 15th April 2024



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