At an IMD Discovery Event, more than 200 industry leaders gathered to hear Professor Kohlrieser speak about resilience in high-performing leadership. Every manager experiences stress and adversity, but must be able to bounce back in order to meet new challenges. Professor Kohlrieser highlighted the importance of adopting the right mindset and coping mechanisms in order to restore leaders to their full potential and energy.
What is resilience?
Resilience is the human capacity to meet adversity, setbacks and trauma, and then recover from them in order to live life fully. Resilient leaders have the ability to sustain their energy level under pressure, to cope with disruptive changes and adapt. They bounce back from setbacks.They also overcome major difficulties without engaging in dysfunctional behavior or harming others.
Resilience is a crucial characteristic of high- performing leaders. Leaders must cultivate it in themselves in order to advance and thrive.They also carry the responsibility for helping to protect the energy of the people in their teams. Leadership is sustainable only if individuals and teams are able to consistently recover high energy levels. During the event, Professor Kohlrieser asked the audience: “How many of you have seen too much conflict in the workplace? How many of you have observed people getting sick or burning out?” A majority of audience members raised their hands, emphasizing the importance of fostering healthier human dynamics in the workplace.
The importance of resilience was brought into sharp relief here in Switzerland when two high- profile executive scommitted suicide over the summer of 2013. Both the CEO of Swisscom and the CFO of Zürich Insurance ended their days, partly as a result of toxic professional situations and working relationships.These men left behind families and children.
A stunning example of resilience is Nelson Mandela. He was sent to prison as a young firebrand who believed in taking up violent means of resistance when the justice system failed. Twenty-seven years later, he came out advocating peace and reconciliation. During his long confinement, Mandela mastered the art of self-leadership. He took great inspiration in the poem“Invictus,”written by William Ernest Henley, which ends with the verses “I am the master of my fate/I am the captain of my soul.”
It is often forgotten that one must learn to lead oneself before being able to lead others successfully. Before take-off, flightat tendants instruct that, in the event of a drop in the cabin’s air pressure, parents should put on their own oxygen masks before helping children with theirs. In a similar way, self-leadership provides the backbone for the effective leadership of groups. A high- performing leader needs to be physically, mentally and emotionally functional– as well as resilient– in order to inspire and guide others to achieve ambitious goals over the long term. The journey to inspiring others starts with “How do I inspire myself?”
The bonds that sustain
Resilience is about the whole person. As Professor Kohlrieser emphasized: “It is not enough to talk about the brain, we also need to talk about the heart. When people at work close their hearts and lose empathy, they lose an essential component of their leadership.” High engagement in teams requires passion.
It also requires people to have an open heart, to express feelings and to be curious about others. Leadership does not occur in an emotional vacuum – thinking and feeling individuals are part of the equation. That being said, it is critical to value both bonding and emotional autonomy. Bonding is essential, but leaders should avoid becoming emotionally or mentally hostage to others.