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The Resilient Leader Takes Lessons From Life


Having just come back from a business leadership development centre, I have been mulling over the characteristic of resilience. I have been running several of these events over the past year, and every time am struck at the connection between personal resilience and the success of the leaders.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the resilience we build in our personal lives will go a long way towards helping us be resilient in our professional ones, but how many leaders actually stop to think about it? And what is resilience?

It is of course, the ability to bounce back from bad times, disruptive change and perceived failure. Naturally, we all have set-backs and disappointments in life, but some of us get back on our feet much quicker than others, and it is said that great leadership really starts with the first encounter of misfortune. In our current climate, change seems the norm, and ‘picking ourselves up’ is needed quickly so we can lead others through the disruption – so what are the lessons we can learn from our ‘everyday’ knocks that will stand us in good stead as leaders?

These are the ones that struck me last week …

Firstly, be authentic. If we understand what our value set is and use that as out true north, we will make better decisions when faced with the ambiguity that comes with disruption. Understanding oneself gives courage to take risks or at the very least, to avoid being taken off course. With good self-knowledge we can look back on our survival techniques from last time and be more optimistic about our ability to cope in the new challenge that lies ahead, eschewing anything that does not align with our values and using the techniques to manage the change again.

Secondly, communicate effectively. When I ask leaders on my workshops what has helped them deal with times of change, invariably they will talk at some point about honest, clear communication. This is not a time for ‘pussyfooting’ around – people appreciate direct messages and leaders who communicate in this way from the heart, but without emotion will engage heads and hearts of those they need to lead. Even if there is nothing to say, saying that is more compelling than saying nothing at all.

Lastly, ask for help. In our personal lives, we don’t think twice about asking our friends, family or extended networks for support in times of trouble. Leaders however, often feel isolated. They have to get through this alone, or else they are lesser in in some way. Rubbish! The really successful leaders I have worked with who manage themselves and others through change well, invariably reach out to peers, colleagues, employees and professional networks to test ideas, gather information and get advice or support. It sometimes helps too, just to realise you are not alone nor are you the first to go through this type of challenging situation!

Heraclitus said ‘The only thing that is constant is change’ – so like it or not, we will continue to face it throughout our lives, personally and professionally. We need to use the lessons learned about ourselves along the way to build self-awareness and feed that back into being an even more consciously resilient, and successful leader.

Taking the Reins


It was with excitement and anticipation this morning that I awaited the announcement of the new Artistic Director of the National Theatre. What a job! The National Theatre is at the top of its game – much Apple, Google, and other major organisations in their own field.

So how DO you go about finding a worthy successor for someone who has been a strong leader that has upheld the value of British theatre while at the same time being innovative and motivational to the future generation. Nicholas Hytner will be a hard act to follow. As would any inspirational leader in a large, successful organisation.

In pondering over my cup of tea this morning, I decided that the new leader would have to demonstrate the following three things:

  1. Common values – taking over a happy ship is tough.The new person needs to respect the status quo to enable stability while bringing in their own ideas.
  2. An acknowledged track record – credibility is everything.The organisation needs to believe that the incoming leader can do the job required.
  3. Have a vision – the creativity to do something different and generate excitement for the potential of the future.

I wrote them down on my desk jotter, and waited.

So ... Rufus Norris it is – and the Chairman of the National Theatre, said :

“In setting out to find a new Director for the National Theatre, the Board looked for

  • an individual with a creative reputation that would command the respect and support of British theatre (acknowledged track record),
  • and with the generosity of spirit that has characterised Nick Hytner’s period as Director (common values). Rufus Norris has both those qualities in abundance.
  • He is an exciting choice, someone who will build on the National Theatre’s present reputation as one of the most admired and innovative performing arts organisations in the world (a vision).

We are fortunate that he has chosen to join us.”

Good advice for leadership succession planning for all of us – even if I did say so myself!