Resilient leaders anticipate opportunities and threats. That’s a statement I read on a website last week and I completely agree. It got my attention because many times that is not what I see happening.
It’s a frequent practice for me to begin a strategic planning engagement with a client by interviewing the key leaders. I typically ask questions that would fall into the categories of a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis. After all these years it shouldn’t surprise me, but it does, when leaders can’t really identify opportunities. This is something outside of their organization. It’s external, it could be a change in the market, technology, competition, consumer attitudes, etc. It is not internal to their organization. Yet, when I ask that question (and I ask it several times different ways), I get answers like, we need to improve our physical infrastructure, or we need to do more employee development.
This is a sign, for me, that the organization is not likely to be resilient because the leaders aren’t thinking like resilient leaders. If leaders don’t have their heads up, looking outside the organization, and aren’t attuned to what’s happening in their environment, their organization is likely to struggle, if it isn’t already.
Old Habits Hinder Resilient Leaders
This also reflects another concern and frustration I have with how resiliency and our old habits of strategic planning don’t align. Many organizations want to do an environmental scan to initiate the strategic planning process. What frustrates me is that they wait, every three to five years, to pause and look to see what’s happening outside of their organization. Waiting, years, simply doesn’t work any longer. It’s holding on to a rigid process from the 90s, which is before we had access to nearly any data point, trend, or analysis we could imagine at our finger tips.
The degree of change that happens in a single year is staggering. I recognize that the past 12 months have been anything but “typical,” but it is our reality. Consider the number of changes that have been thrust upon us in just a single year. And, many of these changes won’t go away, or at least won’t return to the same extent they were in pre-COVID days.
If 2020 has taught leaders nothing else about resiliency, I hope that it’s taught us to be constantly aware of our environment, continuously work to anticipate the future, and be ready to adapt or pivot on a moment’s notice. We’ve become more resilient because we’ve been forced to.
As COVID positivity rates improve and restrictions are gradually lifted, let’s not forget the important lessons we’ve learned and the new habits we’ve developed that have made us more resilient.
Being Resilient Leaders
- Live with a sense of urgency to be aware of our external environment
- Create structures and systems that support adaptability (i.e., a workforce that really can work from home)
- Look to the future with anticipation, discovery, and opportunity
Be resilient, not rigid, and lead with bold grace.