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Break through challenges

Oct 7, 2019 | NEWS2USE

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‘When the going gets tough, the tough gets going’– this is a challenge to management to create a resilient team culture in uncertain times. But that is not some back-up quality, like carrying a spare wheel; it is essential for thriving in today’s dynamic business context.

Watch this informative video with great ideas to cultivate resilience – and then share it with your team.

In the previous edition of NEWS2USE we recognised that organisations in South Africa face uniquely challenging times. Creating a resilient culture, enables teams to cope not only with difficult economic conditions, but also with more aggressive competition, technological change, and the ever-prevailing skills shortage. This is key, since the well-known Pareto-principle, or 80-20 rule, shows that typically the more competent 20% of employees who ensure company success, will be under even greater stress.

Choose a lively and motivating theme song for change. Here’s one to play often and get your team fired up and inspired. –  ‘What doesn’t kill makes you stronger’

When managers can embrace leadership qualities like those employed by Nelson Mandela to steer South Africa through its challenging transition, they are described as ‘transformational leaders’.

Resilient leadership

Whilst bearing the ‘antifragile’ idea in mind, let us for clarity stick with the better-known description of resilience. Any organisation consists of a group of people who work together towards a common goal. In the business community the end-goal of trading goods and services is typically to provide profit to the shareholders.  Employees are financially rewarded for their work in accordance with the perceived value of their skills in the marketplace. The management style that relies on financial reward to leverage performance is known as transactional leadership. But in an age where the production line, aimed at ensuring economy of scale, has become increasingly automated, this form of incentive is less able to cultivate resilience. In the face of automation and artificial intelligence, human employment is now redirected at specialised or creative skills, and at managing stakeholder relationships.

Mandela’s example of transformational leadership is considered to be better able to promote resilience. It is more collaborative and strives to engage employees more directly to work towards the goal, endeavouring to include them in facing the challenges and opportunities together. Research shows that with such proactive engagement with the overall outcome, employees feel better able to bring more of themselves to the organisation. They find personal satisfaction in achieving established goals and can also identify more deeply with the organisation. Inspiration therefore becomes a core element of transformational leadership.

Whereas accuracy and efficiency can of course be better enabled by automation, overall organisational effectiveness is further assured by enhanced stakeholder relationships and innovation. This ‘person-centered activity’ is especially vital in these challenging times. Since the transformational style of leadership enables finding meaning in work, it is also regarded as the superior approach for talent retention and ongoing motivation.

Bringing it together

Transformational leadership has been offered as an approach to support a culture of resilience where leadership embraces the following …

  • Working with teams to identify organisational challenges and creating a vision to guide the change through inspiration – described as ‘inspirational motivation’.
  • Executing the change in close cooperation with committed members of a group – described as ‘intellectual stimulation’.
  • Helping connect the employee’s sense of identity and self to the collective identity of the organization by appreciating strengths of employees, and aligning those with tasks that enhance their performance – described as ‘individualised consideration’.
  • Serving as a role model for followers to inspire them and to raise their interest in the project, and challenging followers to take greater ownership for their work – this promotes ‘idealised influence’.

Subsequently an even newer description ‘antifragile’ is used by Taleb to describe how living systems grow stronger under stress. And that is what we want for our teams – a willingness to ‘take it on!’ Studies identify just how important it is for the team leader to be the role model of resilience.
‘Black Swan’ author, Nassim Taleb says of ‘antifragile’: “Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and – (they) love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.”

Taleb explains how being ‘antifragile’ goes beyond a conventional understanding of resilience or robustness. Whereas the resilient can resist shocks and stay the same; the antifragile gets better. For example, physiologists know that, like muscles, even bones grow stronger when stressed. Unlike ‘robustness’ or ‘resilience’, the antifragile system improves with, rather than withstands, stressors. Intriguingly, Taleb suggests that depriving systems of such vital stressors is not necessarily a good thing, and can indeed by harmful.

Four Top Tips to Recharge your Team


Let change transform you
Let change transform youKeep all eyes on the ballBuild on strengthsWalk the talk
Work with the team to identify the change required. Your employees are at the coalface – they are your sensors to help identify where performance can be improved. Discuss what could work even better and get their buy-in. Together monitor the effects closely.Engage your team closely in creating a shared vision of the outcome of the change you need to make. When they are excited about an outcome they have co-created, the stress and uncertainty of new approaches and strategies becomes more emotionally manageable.Endeavour to identify the deeper individual strengths of your team members. Then you can better align tasks to their capabilities which enhances the employee’s sense of ‘Self’ when tackling a challenge. It will promote greater engagement with the organisational outcome.Become the role model by demonstrating your willingness to work with the team and to learn together. You don’t need to have all the answers, or even do everything right; working with uncertainty calls for experiment and the willingness to be guided by experience.


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