Close filter

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

CEO Insights — Volume 40: Shoring Up for the Balcony Moments - A Summer Reading List

CEO Insights — Volume 40: Shoring Up for the Balcony Moments - A Summer Reading List

We spoke with colleagues, family and friends to curate a summer reading list that promises inspiration to refuel the tank for CEO's demanding lives. Read more

CEO Insights — Volume 39: CEOs and the Next Frontier - Initiating the Generative AI Journey

CEO Insights — Volume 39: CEOs and the Next Frontier - Initiating the Generative AI Journey

With the frenzy of news and heightened attention around generative AI, perhaps no group has been thrust more into the spotlight than CEOs. Read more

CEO Insights — Volume 38: Be Real - The Renewed Focus on Authentic Leadership

CEO Insights — Volume 38: Be Real - The Renewed Focus on Authentic Leadership

What we are hearing from leaders and workers of every generation is that there is a renewed commitment for authentic leadership afoot. Read more

CEO Insights — Volume 37: Expanding Pathways to CEO Leadership - The Emergence of Product Leaders

CEO Insights — Volume 37: Expanding Pathways to CEO Leadership - The Emergence of Product Leaders

Increasingly we have seen several Product leaders becoming CEOs. Leaders holding that magic mix of advanced technology experience and knowledge with an agile and… Read more

CEO Insights — Volume 36: Grounding Your Leadership in Real Time

CEO Insights — Volume 36: Grounding Your Leadership in Real Time

Understanding and practicing Real-Time Leadership is more important than ever. Leaders no longer have a moment to waste with the sensory and data overload… Read more

CEO Insights — Volume 35: Family Business CEOs Look Ahead

CEO Insights — Volume 35: Family Business CEOs Look Ahead

The mounting uncertainty of the past few years have weighed on long-term planning in family businesses. In our CEO study, we heard from 153… Read more

CEO Insights — Volume 34: Tackling Any Crisis by Unleashing the Power of our Organizations

CEO Insights — Volume 34: Tackling Any Crisis by Unleashing the Power of our Organizations

Leaders everywhere are grappling with very big and contentious issues around optimal productivity, inclusivity, and employee engagement and retention that intersect these critical choices… Read more

CEO Insights — Volume 33: Lighting Fires: How CEOs Will Lead Technological Transformation

CEO Insights — Volume 33: Lighting Fires: How CEOs Will Lead Technological Transformation

Companies are ramping up sizable technology investments, however leading digital transformation is more about the people and the organizational culture than it is about… Read more

CEO Insights — Volume 32: Pulling Back the Covers: Leading Authentically to Create Inclusive Organizations

CEO Insights — Volume 32: Pulling Back the Covers: Leading Authentically to Create Inclusive Organizations

By providing their own examples of courage and difference, leaders have the ability to unlock vibrant, thriving cultures of inclusivity and reduce covering. Read more

CEO Insights — Volume 31: Minds Over Matter: Increasing CEO Capacity for Success

CEO Insights — Volume 31: Minds Over Matter: Increasing CEO Capacity for Success

There has been a remarkable augmentation of expectations for CEO leadership. How can CEOs expand their capacity? Read more

CEO Insights — Volume 30: Out of the Fire and on the Rise: Female CEOs Reflect

CEO Insights — Volume 30: Out of the Fire and on the Rise: Female CEOs Reflect

100 Female CEOs globally share their reflections on challenges and opportunities they have encountered leading their organizations recently. Read more

CEO Insights — Volume 29: Tapping into Founder Prowess

CEO Insights — Volume 29: Tapping into Founder Prowess

For future transformation, CEOs can take a cue from Founders for powerful examples of organizational creation and reinvention. Read more

CEO Insights — Volume 28: Beyond Answers: Emerging CEO Leadership

CEO Insights — Volume 28: Beyond Answers: Emerging CEO Leadership

A panel of Egon Zehnder practice group leaders discuss how CEOs can transform, relate, and hone their leadership skills in today’s environment. Read more

CEO Insights — Volume 27: Reconnecting and Reinventing Over Resigning

CEO Insights — Volume 27: Reconnecting and Reinventing Over Resigning

Moving through the Great Resignation, CEOs can build connections and foster transformation by evolving and adapting themselves. Read more

CEO Insights — Volume 26: Leaders’ Most Vital Asset

CEO Insights — Volume 26: Leaders’ Most Vital Asset

It is, above all, the trust a leader builds with others and how they create those connections that define truly great leadership. Read more

CEO Insights — Volume 25: Spanning the Realities of the CEO Role

CEO Insights — Volume 25: Spanning the Realities of the CEO Role

CEOs are straddling two realities—one they are familiar with based on older metrics and the other reliant upon evolving expectations. Read more

CEO Insights — Volume 24: Creating the Space Complexity Demands: New Approaches for CEO Leaders

CEO Insights — Volume 24: Creating the Space Complexity Demands: New Approaches for CEO Leaders

Those who engage mindfully to unlock what Jennifer Garvey Berger calls “mindtraps” – such as the tendency toward over-simplified stories, the need to be… Read more

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

CEO Insights — 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

CEO Insights — Volume 22: Featuring “CEOs: Architects of Prosperity”

CEO Insights — 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

CEO Insights — Volume 21: “Where There Is a Will…”: Creating New Pathways to Success

CEO Insights — Volume 21: “Where There Is a Will…”: 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

CEO Insights — Volume 20: Prioritizing People: Focusing on Talent Needs for an Emerging World

CEO Insights — Volume 20: Prioritizing People: Focusing on Talent Needs for an Emerging World

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

CEO Insights — Volume 19: Looking In to Lead Out: Revitalizing CEO Leadership

CEO Insights — Volume 19: Looking In to Lead Out: 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

CEO Insights — Volume 18: Coming Out Together: Creating CEO Allyship for LGBTQ+ Inclusion

CEO Insights — Volume 18: Coming Out Together: Creating CEO Allyship for LGBTQ+ Inclusion

The rewards of allying with the LGBTQ+ cause are great and many. In fact, increasingly, leaders seem to have more to lose—loyal customers, top… Read more

CEO Insights — Volume 17: From “Know-it-Alls to Learn-it-Alls”: CEO Leadership for a New Future

CEO Insights — Volume 17: From “Know-it-Alls to Learn-it-Alls”: 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

CEO Insights — Volume 16: Both/And CEO Leadership: Leveraging New Possibilities from Old Polarities

CEO Insights — Volume 16: Both/And CEO Leadership: 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

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

CEO Insights — 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

CEO Insights — Volume 14: An Expanding Role: The Advancing Impact of CEO Engagement

CEO Insights — Volume 14: An Expanding Role: 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

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

CEO Insights — 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

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

CEO Insights — 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

CEO Insights — Volume 11: Embracing Uncertainty to Accelerate to a Brighter Future

CEO Insights — 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

CEO Insights — Volume 10: “If this, then that”: Towards Scenario Planning in the Uncertainty of a Global Crisis

CEO Insights — Volume 10: “If this, then that”: 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

CEO Insights — Volume 9: “In the Eye of the Storm”: A New CEO Mandate

CEO Insights — Volume 9: “In the Eye of the Storm”: A New CEO Mandate

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

CEO Insights — Volume 8: Demystifying Courageous Leadership

CEO Insights — Volume 8: Demystifying Courageous Leadership

Cultivating courage is about engaging the whole leader to serve the whole business. Read more

CEO Insights — Volume 7: CEOs and Stakeholder Capitalism: An Expanding Leadership Role

CEO Insights — Volume 7: CEOs and Stakeholder Capitalism: An Expanding Leadership Role

As business purpose becomes a top priority for stakeholders, CEOs must rethink how they lead. Read more

CEO Insights — Volume 6: The Call for Curiosity: Cultivating Inquisitive Leadership

CEO Insights — Volume 6: The Call for Curiosity: 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

CEO Insights — Volume 5: The Boardroom as Leadership Laboratory

CEO Insights — 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

CEO Insights — Volume 4: The Uncharted Leadership Voyage

CEO Insights — Volume 4: The Uncharted Leadership Voyage

Sudden CEO departures have been constantly in the headlines. The CEO turnover rate hit a record high in 2018 and looks to be accelerating.… Read more

CEO Insights — Volume 3: No CEO is an Island: Leading a Collaborative Enterprise

CEO Insights — Volume 3: No CEO is an Island: Leading a Collaborative Enterprise

CEO leadership is, by its very nature, a collective and relational endeavor. There can be no CEO leaders without followers and vice versa. Still,… Read more

CEO Insights — Volume 38: Be Real - The Renewed Focus on Authentic Leadership

CEO Insights — Volume 38: Be Real - The Renewed Focus on Authentic Leadership

What we are hearing from leaders and workers of every generation is that there is a renewed commitment for authentic leadership afoot. Read more

CEO Insights — Volume 2: It Takes a Village: Supporting CEO Leadership

CEO Insights — Volume 2: It Takes a Village: Supporting CEO Leadership

Not that long ago, the idea of coaches for CEOs was frowned upon, viewed as a sign of weakness or called on as a… Read more

CEO Insights — Volume 1: New Captains of Consciousness: Infusing CEO Leadership with Social Responsibility and Accountability

CEO Insights — Volume 1: New Captains of Consciousness: Infusing CEO Leadership with Social Responsibility and Accountability

Not even two decades into the new millennium, the world has faced many devastating events that have deeply affected the century’s course—terrorist attacks, hate… Read more

Back to CEO Insights
Changing language
Close icon

You are switching to an alternate language version of the Egon Zehnder website. The page you are currently on does not have a translated version. If you continue, you will be taken to the alternate language home page.

Continue to the website

Back to top