Resilience is the Hallmark of Leadership

  • PublishedFebruary 3, 2012

Think twice before you speak. Your word and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another. Napoleon Hill

The headline grabbing Deputy Chief Justice Nancy Baraza’s New Year saga has finally calmed down – not yet gone completely – but damage has already been done, real and regrettable damage. There are few Kenyans who have not had a say on this matter – from political commentators, radio talk show hosts, civil society and politicians, to the ordinary man on the street. As a woman who celebrated when another woman got this top judicial job after intense screening, I feel not only embarrassed but let down. But I have learnt a lesson, which I hope those in leadership positions can also learn, that leadership requires resilience. As a resilient leader, you are the essence of your reactions, responses, recovery and reputation when under any circumstances, especially provocative and embarrassing ones. Resilience is your inner strength to take whatever comes your way, your mental strength to react to it and your strength to recover from it. Each one of us gets tested along the way, but it is how we react to these situations that determines our leadership strength and qualities. Recently, my staff and I received provocative and abusive emails from a disgruntled sacked employee and my advise to the team was – ignore it, don’t respond in any way. You have seen it posted on walls – “Never argue with a fool, people will not know the difference.” This is the guiding principle of a resilient leader. You look worse than the person provoking you or hauling abuses at you if you answer back.

What does it matter if you are called a fool or a dog or other unprintable names? These abuses don’t make you one. What does it matter if you come across an aggressive security guard or policeman who not only wants to exert his authority, but also humiliate you? Humble yourself and submit to procedures, and you never know, he may learn a lesson in humility when he later finds out you were a minister or a person of high standing in society.

Having ability and humility to guard yourself even under direct or embarrassing provocation makes you a resilient leader. Becoming such a leader starts with your own strength of attitude. Your attitude challenges your thought process to get from a negative response to a more positive response, or to shut up completely and let the provocateur tire or come to his or her senses. It gets you thinking about who you are and your position, as well as your reputation and outcome of any action you may take.

Most people fail to understand that our responses to situations are triggered by our thoughts and as a leader you should try at all times not to use “knee-jerk responses” – meaning responding without thinking, especially in negative situations. If only Nancy Baraza had stopped to think and evaluate the situation, the outcome would have been different.

It takes a person of character to figure out what they can do to respond to a situation, remain in control of their own emotions and think quickly on their feet. It takes a person of character to come up with a solution that is forward-moving and damage controlling rather than self-defeating or resulting in negative outcomes.

A resilient leader moves from the incidence to recovery stage in a personal way, not just with the people involved, but also taking stock of who you are as a person, and learning the lessons of how this will help build you and strengthen your character, instead of looking around to see who is to blame, becoming defensive or taking extreme measures. The experiences you go through in life build the foundation for your resilience.

Positive recovery from any situation, no matter how bad, builds a resilient foundation of cement and concrete reinforced with steel rods. This is what makes you not answer back to insults – so what if you call me a fool, I know I am not one and will never be. Indeed, I could never have come this far in my life being a fool.

Every recovery from a bad incidence or experience is one more brick in your foundation of resilience. You build your stature, self-esteem, self-reliance and selfconfidence, and all are made possible by your inner strength combined with mental strength.

You can call it fortitude or guts, but I am challenging you to learn how to come out of situations, especially nasty ones, without putting up a stupid fight (intelligent fight is okay) because they will happen to you time and time again. Resilience is not what happens to you, it is how you react and respond to what happens to you. Every time your character, personality, decisions or attitude are challenged, you are bound to react in a certain way – you will build personal integrity if you react with resilience.

When you have weathered a storm in a resilient manner, many will learn from you, talk about you in a positive way and admire you in a verbal and silent way, and some will seek to follow your exemplary way.

Resilience is the true measure of a leader. It’s your pluck, your fortitude, your courage, your inner strength, your guts, and your ability to rebound when someone or something knocks you down. Your resilience will be tested daily – as a parent, a leader, an employer, a head of department, a friend… Resilience knows no boundaries.

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