Resilient leadership

Victoria Li
3 min read

As New Zealand enters a second round of restrictions, many of us will also be cycling through familiar feelings of anxiety, and stress. This is likely to create huge discomfort and fear as we manage concerns about catching coronavirus, trying to keep ourselves afloat during another round of lockdown restrictions (particularly in Auckland) as well as the general uncertainty and unknown that comes with the rapid changes and fluidity of this ongoing COVID-19 situation. For businesses, organisational survival during this time is going to largely depend on the resilience of its leaders and members (Sommer, Howell, & Hadley, 2016), so each and every one of us contributes to whether we sink or swim (or even just tread water) over this period and beyond.

So how can we build our strength and resilience?

Lazarus (1966) defined stress as arising “when individuals perceive that they cannot adequately cope with the demands being made on them or with threats to their wellbeing.”

Based on this, these are the key factors that are likely to help us get through to the other side:

Planning: Research has shown that preparation plays a huge role in whether organisations overcome and survive crises (Walker, Earnhardt, Newcomer, Marion Jr., & Tomlinson, 2016). Namely, this research looked at leadership examples during the Great Recession of 2008 and found that the most successful leaders were those who invested significant time and attention to forecasting. Using a holistic approach allowed them to identify immediate impacts and ripple effects, as well as other relevant issues or possibilities to plan ahead. Also, take a moment to reflect on what worked last time and what learnings you can bring in to support yourself and others through Lockdown 2.0.

Perspective: According to Southwick, Martini, Charney, and Southwick (2017), adjusting the lens through which you view and respond to the crisis is another way in which leaders can minimise the impact. Walker et al.’s (2016) research on crisis leadership advocated for the positive reframing of adverse situations as opportunities to learn and innovate, which can give people purpose and priorities in times of uncertainty. In addition, Southwick et al. (2017) found that rolling with the punches by nurturing innovation and flexibility, as well as proactively learning from mistakes and seeking out new opportunities, helped to reaffirm the organisational vision and foster cohesion, motivation, and loyalty amongst employees.

Communication: This should come as no surprise, but if you wanted some research to back up what we already know, Sommer et al. (2016) found that reactive or passive leadership styles predicted increased negative affect and reduced positive affect amongst stakeholders and employees. That is, a lack of communication about the status of the company, progress, performance, and other relevant updates contributed to general feelings of frustration, unhappiness, and stress that lowered individuals’ abilities to bounce back from setbacks, make informed and effective decisions, and remain optimistic and resilient in times of change. In addition, ongoing communication and active listening between leaders, stakeholders, and employees creates a sense of trust and encourages collaboration, rather than competition (Walker et al., 2016).

So what do we do now?

We ride this out together. Stay home, stay safe, and stay informed (please also stay at least 2m away from those outside your bubble).

We’ve done this before so we know we can do it again. Please remember that it is especially crucial, now more than ever, to be safe and be kind – we are all fighting this together.

Kia Kaha Aotearoa.


Lazarus, R.S. (1966). Psychological stress and the coping process. McGraw-Hill.
Sommer, S.A., Howell, J.M., & Hadley, C.N. (2016). Keeping positive and building strength: The role of affect and team leadership in developing resilience during an organisational crisis. Group & Organisation Management, 41(2), 172-202.

Southwick, F.S., Martini, B.L., Charney, D.S., & Southwick, S.M. (2017). Leadership and resilience. In Marques J. & Dhiman S. (eds) Leadership Today (pp. 315-333). DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-31036-7_18.

Walker, S.M., Earnhardt, M.P., Newcomer, Marion Jr., J.W., & Tomlinson, J.C. (2016). Crisis leadership during the Great Recession of 2008. International Journal of Leadership and change, 4(1), Article 9.

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