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Beyond Resilience Narrowly Defined: The Practice and Impact of Positive Leadership

Volume 15 | September 2020

The year 2020 to date has presented no shortage of examples of humanity and strength as people across the globe have rolled up their sleeves to confront the abrupt changes facing the world at large and their lives directly. In our work, we have had the privilege of witnessing stunning leadership during this crisis. Since the onset of the pandemic, we have talked with and listened to well over a thousand leaders as they have grappled with difficult questions and unforgiving choices. We have watched them show up repeatedly and face the formidable challenges of running their businesses and caring for their employees.

Many of these leaders are telling us that they are currently feeling energized by the ongoing challenges they’re facing and driven to keep exploring new, efficient ways to deliver on both performance and care. All over, we are seeing leaders exercising positive, judicious leadership that highlights the idea of business as a force for good and places human relations at the heart of how businesses operate.

Leaders all over the world are now technically moving beyond resilience as it’s strictly defined (the ability to endure or bounce back) and increasingly leading from a more emboldened and optimistic place. Following the thinking of such notable authors as Nassim Nicholas Taleb, we are calling this broader view of resilience “antifragility,” which implies the ability to not only recover from shocks but also to grow and flourish. “Antifragile is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gains from disorder and gets better,” Taleb has explained.     

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Viktor Frankl

As CEOs make this shift and work to drive new opportunities in the present moment, they will need to consider how best to communicate a positive outlook across their organizations. Going forward, their perspective will be key in order to move their organizations toward the possibilities that can facilitate positive growth and development. “It's precisely in the midst of a setback or challenging time, that leaders should be actively encouraging positivity,”  conclude the two bestselling authors, Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan, in a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, “What Leading with Optimism Really Looks Like.”

As CEOs work to forge a positive perspective across their organizations, instilling an attitude of gratitude, strengthening connectedness, and doubling-down on the sense of purpose will prove especially binding.

The Power of Gratitude

According to the Harvard Medical School, study after study in positive psychology research has shown that practicing gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions and shifts the focus from concentrating on what is going wrong to what is going right. Too many people misunderstand gratitude as being thankful alone, but it is more than this. Gratitude helps develop deep appreciation for what you have, where you are and who you are right now which, in turn, decidedly helps fuel optimism and the energy of positivity for moving ahead.

“Expressions of gratitude can have long-lasting effects on those who receive them,” explains Francesca Gino, a Harvard Business School professor. In a study with the renown organizational psychologist, Adam Grant, Gino found that “expressions of gratitude increased prosocial behavior by enabling people to feel socially valued.” When people are grateful, they come alive. Feeling grateful, we are more apt to uncover the means of pushing ahead, being more secure in the recognition of having what we need to do so, of having enough—rather than withdrawing from or sinking into fears of scarcity or greater loss. CEOs who communicate gratitude can lift the collective ambition and activate the greater good of their organizations.

Among several tactics for cultivating gratitude in businesses, Dan Cable, professor of organizational behavior at London Business School, recommends the production of “highlight reels,” which focus on strengths, not flaws. In the midst of obstacles, a highlight reel can suggest an alternative narrative and remind people of the impact they are capable of making.“This is what world-class athletes do all the time—watch tapes of themselves at peak performance and find ways to re-create or even better their finest moments,” Cable explains. “Reading these stories of your best possible self triggers post-traumatic growth as you relive those memories.”

The Importance of Connectedness

Leaders who open themselves to those around them inspire openness and display an availability and warmth that encourages others. According to Frederic Laloux, the author of Reinventing Organizations, what is most needed to lead effectively today is to “listen for the ‘We’ that wants to be lived through the ‘I’.” This involves really tapping into the collective consciousness of an organization.      

From the many losses and severe upheavals of this year, leaders have the ability to generate greater understanding and unity across their organizations by putting empathy into action. “Part of the way out,” says Amy Fox, the CEO of our partner, Mobius Leadership, “is extending the circle of care and the circle of who you feel entwined with, interdependent to, responsible for . . . wider and wider.” More leaders are recognizing that the difficult emotions they and their employees may be experiencing do not need to become destructive. When shared and constructively addressed, they can be reframed to turn loss into inspiration. “Don’t run away, don’t numb,” Fox advises. “Notice, name, and hold in great compassion together.”  

This, of course, requires deliberate and conscientious action and is hardly simple. Candor and positivity must be balanced carefully to reinforce each other. Leaders who encourage listening and truth-telling can build the foundation their organizations will need. This can be done in several ways to fortify a culture of authenticity and care. Increased communication from the CEO to the teams reinforces connectedness and can establish the transparency needed for others to trust and possibly call forth their own “antifragility.” Storytelling, too, is to be encouraged. Storytelling from leaders as well as across the organization creates relatability and inspiration and helps solidify the human connections upon which a company’s future is so dependent.            

Leading with Purpose

Embodied in every struggle is greater meaning. Viktor Frankl offered us this wise lesson in the 1940s. Now is the time for leaders to double-down on it and create an even greater sense of purpose across their organizations. By focusing on the positive contributions and future possibilities of their companies, CEOs can lead others out of negativity and create confidence and motivation. They will be further driven and brought together by their values and commitments, to not only soldier on but to work together for a new, promising future.        

Leadership is very much a choice we make every day. Setting goals in a world with so much uncertainty and ambiguity can be daunting. Making the choices necessary calls for leaders who courageously listen to both their inner selves and the pulse and direction of their stakeholders. Now more than ever is the time to move beyond resilience alone—beyond maintenance or even the restoration of what was—and embrace the emerging opportunities to reach for more, for better. Principled, positive leadership is magnetic and indelible. It is what the second half of 2020 is calling for.

 


 

< Volume 14
The Advancing Impact of CEO Engagement

Volume 16 >
The Practice and Impact of Positive Leadership

 

Browse the Volumes

Volume 1: New Captains of Consciousness

Volume 1: New Captains of Consciousness

Infusing CEO leadership with social responsibility and accountability: Edelman reports that people are shifting their trust to relationships they feel they can influence, above… Read more

Volume 2: Supporting CEO Leadership

Volume 2: Supporting CEO Leadership

“We simply can’t learn to be more vulnerable and courageous on our own. Sometimes our first and greatest dare is asking for support.” Read more

Volume 3: Leading a Collaborative Enterprise

Volume 3: Leading a Collaborative Enterprise

CEO leadership is, by its very nature, a collective and relational endeavor. Still, we often speak of CEOs as if they are forces unto… Read more

Volume 4: The Uncharted Leadership Voyage

Volume 4: The Uncharted Leadership Voyage

The CEO turnover rate is at a record high and appears to be accelerating. How can we better prepare CEOs for today’s reality, where… Read more

Volume 5: The Boardroom as Leadership Laboratory

Volume 5: The Boardroom as Leadership Laboratory

CEOs struggle with developing their leadership teams; boardrooms are living labs for leadership experimentation. Why CEOs should expose their senior executives to board work… Read more

Volume 6: Cultivating Inquisitive Leadership

Volume 6: Cultivating Inquisitive Leadership

Curious, bold leadership is not something you simply have or don’t have; you build upon what is there, you learn it and continue to… Read more

Volume 7: CEOs and Stakeholder Capitalism

Volume 7: CEOs and Stakeholder Capitalism

CEOs face new requirements from stakeholders that calls for greater resilience and purposeful leadership. Read more

Volume 8: Demystifying Courageous Leadership

Volume 8: Demystifying Courageous Leadership

Coming to courageous leadership depends upon practice—it is the building up of small moments of courage, toning the cognitive and emotional muscles of boldness… Read more

Volume 9: In the Eye of the Storm

Volume 9: In the Eye of the Storm

Five tips for CEOs while they work to manage the business and create psychological and emotional safety for their employees during the COVID-19 crisis. Read more

Volume 10: Towards Scenario Planning in the Uncertainty of a Global Crisis

Volume 10: Towards Scenario Planning in the Uncertainty of a Global Crisis

After weeks of being immersed in immediate questions from COVID-19, CEOs are starting to tackle the challenge of preparing for what is next. Read more

Volume 11: Embracing Uncertainty to Accelerate to a Brighter Future

Volume 11: Embracing Uncertainty to Accelerate to a Brighter Future

All over the world, we are hearing CEOs ask the same question: What is the best way to lead and move forward when we… Read more

Volume 12: The Road Ahead for CEOs: Shifting Identity to Enable Change

Volume 12: The Road Ahead for CEOs: Shifting Identity to Enable Change

CEOs have stepped up like never before to do their part in accelerating the movement for justice and reconciliation forward. Read more

Volume 13: A Rising Tide: Creating Inclusive Systems of Leadership Selection

Volume 13: A Rising Tide: Creating Inclusive Systems of Leadership Selection

Since the U.S. erupted in racial protests, many CEOs have taken a public stand against systemic racism, pledging to help dismantle it. Read more

Volume 14: The Advancing Impact of CEO Engagement

Volume 14: The Advancing Impact of CEO Engagement

There is extensive speculation about the impact that leading through COVID-19 will have on the future of the CEO position. Have the past five… Read more

Volume 15: Beyond Resilience Narrowly Defined: The Practice and Impact of Positive Leadership

Volume 15: Beyond Resilience Narrowly Defined: The Practice and Impact of Positive Leadership

Principled, positive leadership is magnetic and indelible. It is what 2020 is calling for. Read more

Volume 16: Leveraging New Possibilities from Old Polarities

Volume 16: Leveraging New Possibilities from Old Polarities

Leaders today need to better manage polarities - but what are those polarities, and how do you reconcile them? Read more

Volume 17: CEO Leadership for a New Future

Volume 17: CEO Leadership for a New Future

The CEOs who seem to adjust best remain cognizant that “what got you here, won’t get you there.” Read more

Volume 18: Creating CEO Allyship for LGBTQ+ Inclusion

Volume 18: Creating CEO Allyship for LGBTQ+ Inclusion

By connecting on a shared human and empathetic level with their LGBTQ+ colleagues, CEOs have the means to enact real and lasting change, and… Read more

Volume 19: Revitalizing CEO Leadership

Volume 19: Revitalizing CEO Leadership

This is a promising moment in time for CEOs to consider how they want to show up as leaders, to listen for and look… Read more

Volume 20: Prioritizing People

Volume 20: Prioritizing People

CEOs are depending on their CHROs, asking: What else can we do to have a positive impact on employees and make a difference now… Read more

Volume 21: Creating New Pathways to Success

Volume 21: Creating New Pathways to Success

Five steps that take leaders through the process of devising options or alternative pathways to reach performance goals. Read more

Volume 22: Featuring “CEOs: Architects of Prosperity”

Volume 22: Featuring “CEOs: Architects of Prosperity”

Our new series, “CEOs: Architects of Prosperity,” has been created to highlight the expanding expectations for CEOs across a wide range of issues affecting… Read more

Volume 23: Balancing Acts: One Leader’s Approach Through Uncertainty

Volume 23: Balancing Acts: One Leader’s Approach Through Uncertainty

A lot of ink has been spilled around how to lead businesses through mounting complexity and uncertainty, but much of what might have been… Read more

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