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The 7 traits of change resilient leaders

I am certain you can think of a leader in your professional network that you would characterize as resilient. These individuals not only have the ability to survive hardship but also to emerge stronger and better prepared to face new challenges in the future. You see them as tenacious and determined, persistent and gritty, with an unwavering self-resolve or steel will. 

What is it that helps these individuals bounce back from inevitable hardships and setbacks? Studies in human psychology and business point towards a number of successful traits, and I like to boil them down to the following seven. These are based on the traits I have personally seen in leadership on a number of successful large-scale and complex organizational transformations (and are in no particular order).

Trait #1: Purposeful

A change resilient leader has a sense of purpose; they know their “why”. They have something in them that compels them to do the things they do. They invariably have a value system they live by and instill in their organizational culture, and make time in their organizations for important visioning and strategy. These leaders are results-driven; they mobilize their people toward their vision and empower their teams to self-organize around it. 

Trait #2: Self-Aware

Change resilient leaders are confident and self-aware. They recognize and develop their strengths. They demonstrate a commitment to ongoing learning and edification. They’re kind of like superheroes - even though the world may be seemingly coming to an end, they’re calm and strongly believe in their own capabilities. A few of my own mentors vividly displayed this ability during times of adversity - that’s the avatar I look to when I myself am under conditions of enormous stress and change. 

Trait #3: Action-Oriented

Change resilient leaders don’t let their thoughts get hijacked. They see risks, but don’t dwell there; instead, they explore facts by suspending emotion in a relentless pursuit of results. They make decisions intuitively because they really can’t afford to wait for all the facts. They learn to become comfortable with being uncomfortable and foster a culture of risk-taking. Because in their mind, they’ve reframed failure - failure is simply a growth opportunity. I think Sara Blakely, Spanx CEO says it best, “failure is (when you are) not trying, versus the outcome”. 

Trait #4: Resourceful

One of my favourite books is Jim Collins’ Good to Great where resourcefulness is characterized in terms of leaders who understand and accept their reality:

"You absolutely cannot make a series of good decisions without first confronting the brutal facts.” ― James C. Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don’t

A change resilient leader faces fears and conflict head-on, and with a fierce resolve. They don’t become victims of change, but rather tend to innovate in times of adversity. They have a grounded hope - a realistic view of what’s going wrong and a strong belief in their ability to lead through and learn from adversity. They nimbly divert resources (both money and people) to meet obstacles on their own terms. 

Trait #5: Recharge

A change resilient leader gets help and gives help. They have strong relationships amongst family and friends, and often cultivate a safe and supportive network. They communicate openly and honestly with their informal “board of directors” because they’re comfortable asking for help and know when to listen. These leaders also develop healthy coping mechanisms to rest and recharge, through daily recovery mechanisms such as eating well, working out or meditation, and systematically “unplug” while on vacation. These leaders recognize how important it is to strategically stop and keep their “workaholism” in check, given the demands of our modern workplace.

Trait #6: Agile

In today’s world, those that are flexible and adaptable to changing situations are the ones that sustain. A change resilient leader sees change as an opportunity and not a threat. When faced with change, they make an almost instant attitude adjustment, because they know it’s all about perception. They make a conscious choice over their emotional response because they focus on the things that are still in their control. They ask, “what are we still able to do?”, and “what hasn’t changed, and is staying the same”? They possess the capacity to lead and drive change before the case for change becomes desperately obvious. 

Trait #7: Empathetic

The importance of emotional intelligence to business leadership simply can’t be overstated. Those that display authenticity, vulnerability, empathy and humility, seek to understand by truly listening to others. Change resilient leaders create emotional bonds and harmony because they apologize when they’re wrong and handle criticism without blame. They encourage a greater diversity of ideas because they systematically dissect issues with great honesty and clarity. They’re great listeners, who quickly recognize the needs and emotions of their people. 

All in all, leaders who demonstrate these seven traits have the skill and capacity to transform adverse experiences into catalysts for grown within their organizations. Successful organizations and leaders are where they are today because of their ability to be resilient in everyday life. Resilience can well be an untapped capacity, but with discipline, tenacity, and determination you can fuse it into the DNA of your organization and virtually assure great success. 

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