Manager resilience: A value on the rise

Pino Bethencourt. Professor. IE Business School

29 May 2006

In a fast-changing world where crisis lurks at every corner, managerial resilience is taking on a new importance. But what is managerial resilience and how is it developed?

The latest addition to the lexicon of management is the word resilience. It features in MIT Professor, Yossi Sheffi´s latest book. Gary Hamel espoused on its virtues during his conference at Expomanagment in May.

The term ´resilience´ has been borrowed from the theory of material resistance and refers to the ability of a material to recover its original shape after being deformed. Applied to organisations, it is a measure of their capacity for reaction when faced with a crisis, whether it be a terrorist attack, a fire at a manufacturing plant or, as recently suffered, the unexpected nationalisation of a subsidiary.

Sheffi and Hamel illustrate appropriate practices in both strategy and the supply chain. However, when all is said and done, the strategy, procedures and structuring of each business are the visible proof of their invisible organisational culture. A company´s culture is an intangible concept that is not easily defined and is the sum of the mentalities and values of all its employees, but especially of its managers.

Manager resilience is a quality that is increasingly in demand from companies that face growing levels of uncertainty from shamelessly cheap Asian competitors or soaring supply costs.

According to Sheffi, the corporate cultures that detect and correct problems far in advance and which empower even low-level employees to take decisions reveal a high capacity for resilience.

Indeed, the resilient manager not only remains lucid and capable of strategic thought in highly complex situations, but he or she also transmits reflexive calmness to subordinates. The resilient manager creates an environment of organisational confidence that protects against the fears and doubts that paralyse other employees throughout the organisation.

Although it smacks of a fairytale, resilience represents the competitive edge that will distinguish the victors from the vanquished over the coming decade. As we all know, the world situation isn’t getting any easier.

So the next question is, how is resilience developed? It is developed like any other management skill: by exposing the manger to situations of calculated risk and then analysing the resulting successes and failures.

The greatest enemies of manager resilience are fear, anguish and accumulated stress, which lead us back to an inexorable basic requirement for resilient management: confidence.

  • The level of self-confidence of a manager is of key importance when gauging the risks inherent in a situation. If the manager doubts himself/herself, he/she will perceive risks where there aren’t any, thus stoking his or her own fears.
  • The ability to inspire confidence among colleagues is key for ensuring a team’s quick response to incoherent figures, lack of information and other phenomena typical of sudden change. In the absence of confidence, no one follows anyone and it is every man and woman for himself.
  • Finally, the ability to generate confidence in the future—what is classically called ´faith’--is perhaps the least tangible skill of all. It is the quality of the confidence acquired by the warrior who has survived many battles. It is the self awareness which allows the manager to know that whatever happens, he or she will land on his/her feet.

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