Leadership Resilience: Overcoming Obstacles to Renew by Kriti Makhija

COVID-19 eclipsed all other recent epidemics in both size and scope. In addition to the deadly human toll and the disruption to millions of people’s lives, the economic damage in 2020 has been significant and far-reaching.  And this ambiguity, chaos and damage is not a matter of the past, it is continuing and amidst all this, leadership resilience to renew and resurrect is tested more than ever.

In 2020 itself, leaders have had to contend very quickly with the fact that COVID-19 is a fluid and continued emergency. This placed extreme demands on business leaders for agility in navigating uncertainties, forward thinking and shifts in organizational mindsets to build resilient organisations.

In 2021 too, leaders are in unchartered territories, navigating business in a world they barely recognize. They have to figure out how to carve out the way forward to renewal and growth. They’ve never done this before. But that means they are ripe for a truly transformational opportunity. Leaders can play a critical role in changing the world for the better but they will need to step in and engage their staff in a much more connected, vulnerable and resilient manner.

Leadership Resilience and Managing Adversity

Resilient leaders have the ability to see failures as minor setbacks, with the tenacity to bounce back quickly. 

There are individuals who move through misfortunes without faltering, while others do not. There are organizations that endure difficulties while creating success out of gruelling circumstance, while others go bankrupt. The question is: How do individuals and organizations create success out of failure and become resilient? How can some glean meaning out of hardship and others cannot? The answer can be puzzling. There is no formula.

In difficult times, people are looking up to their leader for emotional strength and courage as you remain positive and look for new opportunities. They’re looking at the leaders to set the direction to build a resilient organisation – to cope, renew and thrive in uncertain times, develop new routines, simple rules, and the ability to improvise in continued ambiguity.


Truly resilient leaders are defined by:

Who they are:

The eight primary distinguishing abilities a resilient leader must have that make the difference between surviving and thriving are:

1. The ability to stabilize what is happening ‘today’ and pilot both the situation’s positive energy and negative constraints towards an innovative ‘tomorrow’.

2. The ability to do well by doing good across all stakeholders – employees, customers, communities and ecosystem.

3. The ability to share vulnerability and ask for help to create shared ownership and develop more leaders.

4. The ability to show the reality with empathy and share information transparently to dispel misinformation, fear and rumours.

5. The ability to move people with decisive optimism by creating a vision of a compelling future.

6. The ability to empower teams with decisive action and courage in a volatile environment.

7. The ability to stay focused on what lies ahead, whilst instilling confidence and steadiness across your entire ecosystem.

8. The uncanny ability to improvise continually and create what is needed out of available resources.

What they do:

There are four main dimensions by which resilient leaders are defined:

  • Define priorities– Identify the areas that are most at risk during a crisis, such as command centre, talent and strategy, business continuity & financing, supply chain, customer engagement, digital capabilities etc.
  • Set timeframes– Identify the right time to pivot from respond to recover to renew and resurrect.
  • Create shared ownership & accountability– Discuss the ‘how’ and ‘what’, define responsibility and accountability for each priority.
  • Build resilient organizations – Utilise ingenuity to triumph over adversity. Build an environment of resilience to combat future shocks with in-built redundancies in the form of elasticity that facilitates hardiness, toughness, and resistance to failure that would otherwise be disabling.

The specific actions that resilient leaders take in spotting opportunities, managing priorities, then responding, learning, leveraging, recovering and creating in-built redundancy into the business will enable organizations to transform, renew and resurrect in and adversity.

Great Businesses are Built with Great People

In a crisis, you don’t run a company. You serve a family.

The importance of being a resilient leader in such times is about ‘real’ leadership, more than just operational continuity and organization’s bottom line. An attribute that great leaders have in common is that they put their people first. People-centred leaders care about both people and results, and this has never been more important than during this crisis.

Uncertainty and fear is common in the workplace during a crisis. The focus of leadership in such times expands into knowing your teams’ resilience factors. Things to consider:

  • Keeping tabs on how they are responding individually to remote working and managing their workdays.
  • Redistributing or restructuring workloads to help accommodate personal or family commitments if necessary.
  • Keeping them informed, energized and motivated by creating a vision of a successful future will instil trust and encourage resilience.
  • Offering coaching and support to help them adapt to the new working environment.


My 5-Point Agenda to ‘Be Strong’ to Renew and Resurrect:

 1. Making 2021 the year of self-compassion

Self-compassion is being fundamentally happy with who you are and is the secret of compassionate, positive and effective leadership. It leads to a decisive optimism, which is a strong combination of a positive mindset, positive actions, positive leadership and a positive, committed and resilient organisational culture.

2. Taking time to rediscover my ‘why’

Purpose is a superpower that energises individuals, teams and organizations. Hence knowing, defining and redefining the ‘Why’ (both personal and organisational) and alignment between the two is important. When work feels meaningful, we no longer feel drained, demotivated or scattered. Our energy flows and our confidence grows.

3. Nurturing my personal resilience

The more we cultivate our resilience, the more power we have in our ability to adapt and flex during uncertain times personally and as a leader.  For me, 2021 is to be more self-aware of  my inner landscape versus the outer circumstances. This means focusing more on my reaction to events than to the events themselves and live ‘more’ intentionally.

Cultivating ‘more’ positive daily practices to optimize my performance as a leader and inspire others to do the same too.

4. Embracing uncertainty

One of the biggest challenges for leaders during 2020 has been living with uncertainty and the need to make decisions based upon little, no, or ever-changing, information.

My mantra for 2021 is Decisive Optimism – embrace the uncertainty to live a life full of possibilities to keep the flame of my spark of excitement burning gloriously for the new adventure. And inspire others to follow my lead.

5. Using the power of shared leadership as a strategic path to recovery and growth

The events of 2020 have shown that we can’t solve unpredictable challenges without drawing the strengths and skillsets of diverse leadership.

This is the year for ‘more’ diverse, collaborative and shared leaderships. To move beyond box-ticking and asking a diverse group/ team for inputs on what we need for success. Make changes in policies, structures and processes. Provide access to development opportunities, internal advocacy and flexible, sustainable work environments.

Let’s Transform & Face the Future with Confidence

Resilient leaders are not born, they are made.

Their ability to help others triumph over adversity is not written into their genetic code. It is learned, acquired, and honed through conscious decisions to observe and practice, especially during adversity. There are no better lessons in learning resilience than those that come from successfully suffering through circumstance and consequence.

If you believe that adversity is an opportunity to learn, to transform and is a gift, then you are a resilient leader.In facing adversity, evolving situations can be viewed through a new lens with a different focus. Previously unseen views bring insight to changing challenges. Innovation and improvisation can generate novel approaches to problem resolution. It is through the “processing” that occurs in the battle against adversity that resilience emerges.

The resulting success allows individuals, leaders, and organizations to move to higher levels of thought and performance, and it brings a sense of peace that accompanies new wisdom.

It is likely that 2021 will be another challenging year for leaders. But challenge – while difficult to experience – is essential to personal and professional growth. As they formulate their New Year’s resolutions, it is important for leaders to remember how much they’ve learned from 2020 and what learnings they can apply to be even better in their jobs over the months and years to follow

In the spirit of resilience, I hope we are never the same again. Meaning, I believe we all can be enhanced by these challenges, not diminished by them, even if we wouldn’t have chosen them.

We’re not going back to normal. We’re going forward. We will bounce forward, renew and resurrect in 2021.

We discussed Leadership Resilience in 2021 with award-winning Paralympian Padma Shri Deepa Malik and her daughter para-athlete Devika Malik. As part of the Leaders Connect series presented by TOSB Conversations and ARKA Leadership.

Start a conversation that matters! Read more about TOSB Conversations here or reach out to us to know more.