Wednesday 27 November 2019 6:13 am

To be resilient in these tough times, leaders need to replace hubris with humility

What does it take to succeed as a leader in today’s business environment?

In a year which has already seen the demise of Thomas Cook and Mothercare, resilient leaders recognise the value of investing in a culture that instils a clear strategic purpose. 

It’s also about offering tactical freedom by teams with the trust and opportunity to plot the optimum route in tough times. 

With this in mind, today’s business environment requires coaches rather than commanders at the top.

According to the findings of our latest annual Index, which polls 800 business leaders worldwide, the ability to instil “adaptive capacity” throughout an organisation is now more important than pure financial management skills. Crucially, those with a greater confidence in their senior managers’ people skills display a stronger overall resilience and higher financial performance.

For those of us already in leadership positions, this begs a question: having worked our way up in previous years, are our people skills up to the demands of a modern workplace? 

The best way of judging your own resilience against changing conditions is to stop looking backwards into your own past, and instead benchmark yourself against your peers. 

How are you measuring up in areas such as staff engagement? Or indeed, are you measuring this at all?

Being able to instil a clear sense of direction across your workforce is key. Teams with the capacity to adapt to changing market conditions tend to engage and attract talent. 

To stand out and win, you must equip your team — regardless of its size, sector or location — with an approach to resilience that is right for it. You must also display humility and be open to the views and opinions of everyone. 

The most resilient leadership teams are eager to learn from their own and others’ experience, which can help to minimise problems.

However, turbulent political and economic conditions, from Beijing to Boston, appear to have weakened the confidence of many business leaders, and many are failing to take advantage of opportunities when they arise.

Past failures to predict and cope with economic shocks encourage reactive, short-term mindsets that value security over opportunity. 

Being overly cautious can have consequences, particularly if it turns into inaction. Aside from missing opportunities, such thinking creates further challenges in recruitment and retention, and undermines colleague engagement.

As the leader of your department or organisation, it is your actions that are most directly responsible for influencing the values, culture, and ethos of your team. Whether you are addressing the board or chatting in the kitchen over a cup of tea, you should think about the messages that you are sending. 

Consider how others might interpret your words. It is all too easy to create a negative feedback loop, where a poorly-communicated initial setback ends up undermining confidence in the long term. 

Resilient leaders are inclusive and consultative, and don’t simply dictate rules that need to be followed. Instead, the best leaders will articulate the reasons for their decisions. In this way, everyone benefits from the experience of overcoming a challenge, and learns to act resiliently for themselves, and for the wider business.

Resilient leaders are able to look at individual and organisational capabilities holistically, allowing them to hold onto new ground, while continuing to strive for continual improvement. 

In short, the future belongs to those who prepare for it today. Ultimately, it’s about instilling a belief in a brighter tomorrow.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.