April 19, 2012

By Jim Leverette

Here is one of the key “Table Stakes of Leadership” — And what to look for on Resilience

Another quality successful leaders share is the ability to face and overcome adversity. Some view the layoffs during the extended recession as a Darwinian purge of the corporate herds. But the survivors weren’t always the strongest and most intelligent. Instead, those who kept the top leadership jobs knew how to lead and help the team leverage their combined abilities to achieve corporate goals. No matter how big the company may grow, or how small it may shrink to, it still comes down to people working together to achieve a mutually agreed upon goal.

During uncertain times, it’s tempting to focus on yourself. Interestingly, successful leaders actually focus outward — and excel in this ability. They focus on the bigger picture, the end result. Successful leaders share this ability to “Marshall” and then focus the resources of the organization on those things that provide the highest yield and greatest return-while maximizing their ROI on time, effort and energy.

Fortune cookie wisdom says, “No gem is polished without a little friction.” Twists and turns, and unexpected confusion! You do your best; other things against you-do theirs. Before fully matured, every successful leader has experienced some personal trial of change in business and life. Resilience is forged in the fires of adversity.

Business is conducted on Battleships — not a cruise ship. Resilient leaders have a track record of unique experiences that give them a calm demeanor of “knowingness.” They know what to do. They’ve faced the Dragon, and lived to tell the tale. It’s not what they believe that counts, it’s what they believe enough to do that counts most. Words matching deeds are most respected by the team from a leader that has earned the right to be heard. The team will rally around this leader and deliver amazing results. Successful leaders who have lived through challenging situations know how to shape their plans to win and leverage their resources to create force multipliers to meet and overcome the business challenges facing their organization. In this respect, successful leaders are comfortable with uncertainty. They don’t say “Forward, MARCH!” without leading the way.

Here is One Thought to consider on “Resilience” when hiring for a key leadership role:

What to look for — Resilience is not gender specific. Resilient leaders raise the leadership bar for all. They thrive on big challenges and are comfortable in attempting great things! All successful leaders take risks and all successful leaders fail at least once. Failure doesn’t mean you aren’t a leader; evasion of responsibility does.

The thing to focus on is a pattern of displaying resilience in every challenge and test. Successful leaders don’t let the small things bog them down, even when crossing huge muddy fields. Successful leaders are fully engaged. In the race of life and in business, all successful leaders enjoy the wind in their hair (if there’s any left) and the roar of the business engine — it’s in their DNA.

Look for examples of when either instinctively or deliberately they displayed resilience. Look for a pattern of them deciding on what to do-and the ideal path to take-and proceeding with their plan. Did they wait due to circumstances (and never got started), or handled their circumstances that popped up along the way? What were the key motivations that helped them and their team to accomplish the objectives? Which part of the story do they take credit for? Which part of their narrative talks about the team’s contribution? Listen for responses that give the credit to the team, “It was a total team effort – each person and group did its work using their skills, talents and abilities.” The part they played in dealing with a particular business challenge will typically have to be urged out of them, and will be made to seem minor. This is what you want to hear.

There are quitting points (circumstances) at every inflection point of growth. Some things go beyond a leader’s ability to control. However, if the “goal” is so compelling, then the circumstances won’t or don’t matter. Resilience is not an option — it is a necessity to successful leadership in overcoming the adversity encountered on the way to achieving business goals and objectives.

Jim Leverette is President of Randall James Monroe, Inc. Leverette has successfully conducted executive search assignments for some of the most respected business organizations in the world. Roles include C-Level executives and their direct reports in all functional areas. Leverette is an expert in executive search and selection and specializes in making the leadership, culture and chemistry fit. Leverette’s core strength is in finding precisely the right leader to address specific business challenges for each client company represented.


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