Leadership Role Modeling of Resilience

A thought for leaders on National Workplace Wellness Day – 31 March 2017

In a previous post I spoke about how the barriers between work and life have been essentially eliminated, with many studies recognising this shift in the ‘new world of work’.  Where highly competent and committed people struggle to cope – visibly over stretched, over committed, overwhelmed, burned out, exhausted, cynical and feeling totally ineffective, wondering how did it all go so terribly wrong?

We can’t assume that leaders are impervious to such challenges just because they are high achievers. In the words of the singer Rag’n’Bone Man, they are ‘only human after all’ …  (by the way its a great song, if you haven’t heard it check it out).

 A number of years ago I attended a workshop delivered by the Resilience Institute, it was part of a conference I was attending and it was the highlight of the conference for me, as I was looking to really understand individual resilience in an organisational context.

What grabbed my interest most of all was the way the Resilience Institute constructed a credible linkage between organisational and individual resilience. At the meeting, they shared the image below which I think delivers a very powerful message in a simple way.  The individual spiral upward towards meaning and flow and its downward trajectory towards distress and depression is reflected and mirrored in the organisational spiral upward towards rigorous application and world class performance and its downward trajectory towards disengagement, high staff turnover and organisational failure.


I’d encourage you to consult their site to read their publication Global Resilience Diagnostic Report for 2016; it’s an insightful update on this important subject.

While individual resilience is considered a personality trait, it can be cultivated.  Importantly, groups and organizations can also cultivate a “culture of resilience” which can serve as a form of “psychological immunity” from the effects of challenge and setback.

What is evident in all this is the crucial role leader’s play in role-modeling resilience to influence both individual and organisational resilience.

If the individual experience of overwhelm is to erode your overall sense of wellbeing, distort your thinking, undermine your confidence and drain your energy, then just imagine what a ripple effect overwhelm might have within an organisation where the individual impacted holds a people manager or leadership role. Because when their resilience is low, it can have a far reaching impact not only on work culture but also on overall business performance where:


  •  Bounce is replaced by inflexibility, anxiety around change and an inability to cope
  •  Courage is replaced by fear, doubt and an inability to move forward
  •  Creativity is replaced by a struggle with uncertainty and playing it safe
  •  Connection is replaced by withdrawal, isolation and loneliness


The crucial role of leadership in role modeling resilience is also highlighted in a HBR article Building a Resilient Organizational Culture (2011). The authors state that a culture of organizational resilience is built largely upon what they refer to as “resilient leadership”. They claim that a small number of highly credible individuals who “model” the behaviors associated with resilience have the ability to change an entire culture of an organization as others replicate the resilient characteristics that they have observed.

 It is imperative, therefore, to support people managers and leaders in cultivating “resilient leadership” to ensure people flourish and organisations thrive.

Deloitte University Press has reported extensively on Global Human Capital Trends over the past five years. Their work has ‘provided a depth of understanding of the challenges facing business leaders in a dramatically changing digital, economic, demographic, and social landscape. In an age of disruption, business leaders are being pressed to rewrite the rules for how they organize, recruit, develop, manage, and engage the 21st-century workforce’.

In one of their earlier reports (2014), they described the plight of the  ‘the overwhelmed employee’ where they recognised that an explosion of information is overwhelming workers, while smartphones, tablets, and other devices keep employees tethered to their jobs leaving them constantly ‘on’. They found that while nearly every company sees ‘overwhelm’ as a challenge to individual productivity and overall performance, they struggles to handle it. According to the survey, executives around the world are sounding the alarm, with respondents recognising the urgent need to address the challenge but also recognise that they do not feel equipped to do so.

Fast-forward to their 2016 report where they found that organisational evolution in itself is too slow to address the pace of change and the key findings is that organisations need to change faster ‘by design’.

Pause for a moment to consider how high performing individuals, teams and organisations excel at designing, developing and delivering complex solutions to technical and process issues.

Then just imagine what could be achieved if the best of their innovative capability was channeled into promoting individual and organisational resilience?

More recently in Delotte’s 2017 report, they provided a model which they refer to as ‘a starting point to address a variety of issues including- meaningful work, the purpose of the organization, employee talent development and growth, rewards and wellness, the work environment, fairness and inclusion, and authenticity among management and leadership’.

Significantly, in the model they identified a ‘Humanistic Workplace’ as a core element of the positive work environment.  Organisational language can be heavy on jargon, so it is refreshing to see the term ‘humanistic workplace’ used to describe the essence of the desired employee experience. It is a term that we can all easily understand because of our shared experience of what it is to be human and yet each of us can recognise the individuality of that experience. Similarily, role modeling resilience has at its core a sharing of human endeavor, which at the same time is uniquely personal and individual and that is precisely why it is so powerful.


If you are a leader or a people manager, my invitation to you as we mark National Workplace Wellness Day (31 March 2017) is to commit to proactively cultivating your own resilience, self-awareness, self-mastery and self-care. By safeguarding your own wellbeing and vitality, you can positively influence your organisational culture and act as a credible role model for a humanistic workplace where people feel valued, supported, respected, trusted, accepted and included.


Deirdre McLoughlin is a coaching associate with Harmonics specialising in Organisational Development, Executive Coaching and Psychotherapy.  

Harmonics specialises in helping organisations plan for change, manage change and support their people through change.  To learn more visit or contact us on 01 8942616061 336136 or 021 7319604 or email


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  •  Global Resilience Diagnostic Report – Resilience – Institute
  • 2017 Global Human Capital Trends | Deloitte | Human capital trends – 

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