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Leading Beyond Crisis: 7 Commandments of Transformational Resilient Leadership

Leadership in the best of times is challenging. Leadership in crisis is harder still. But there is a third type of leadership that must certainly be the most challenging of all—one that seizes upon adversity, and even crisis, as an opportunity for transformation and growth.

Photo courtesy of Markus Spiske via Unsplash

“Wanted—A Leader! In every great crisis, the human heart demands a leader that incarnates its ideas, its emotions and its aims. Till such a leader appears, everything is disorder, disaster and defeat,” wrote the New York Times on April 25, 1861. The greatest representative democracy the world had ever seen sat on the verge of collapse when these words of utter desperation were written. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina had seceded from the United States of America. On April 12, South Carolinian militia fired upon the United States Army garrison at Fort Sumter, causing its surrender the following day. Two weeks later, this call for a crisis leader could be heard around the world. 

In the fog of crisis, we search for guidance. We search for a “hero” who will plot a course through the storm taking us to safety. It is as true now as it was in 1861—as we remember 2020 as a year that threatened not only our physical health, but also our economic and social viability as a nation. 

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Leadership in the best of times is challenging. Leadership in crisis is harder still. But there is a third type of leadership that must certainly be the most challenging of all—one that seizes upon adversity, and even crisis, as an opportunity for transformation and growth. Imagine a leader who can practice transformative leadership anchored in growth-promoting resilience that propels people, organizations and even communities to greater heights than before, greater heights than perhaps imagined. The leader who can not only lead to bounce back, but also foster quantum leaps forward from the abyss of crisis is a rare person, indeed. “The moment [such a leader] takes the helm, order, promptitude and confidence follow as the necessary result,” the 1861 New York Times article continued.When we see such results, we know that a hero leads.” 

I have studied transformative leaders who not only bring us back from the abyss but also help us grow stronger than ever before. Transformational resilient leaders are leaders who can foster organizational and community growth in the wake of adversity. They guide us through the “fog of crisis” with the promise of a better future. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies wrote that highly effective leaders can increase resilience to stressful conditions and may even lead to the creation of an entire culture of resilience that radiates to all aspects of the organization, and perhaps the community, as well. 

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My studies reveal these transformative leaders seem to practice what I refer to as the “seven commandments” of transformative leadership, which helps them not only navigate in the fog of crisis but also fosters growth beyond the crisis.

  1. They understand that every aggregation of people—whether organizations or communities—possesses two ongoing dynamic needs which are always engaged and operational: First, physical and financial needs, and second, psychological needs. Leaders must manage both. If the leader fails to attend to both needs, those who follow will feel their needs have been neglected. In organizational leadership, such neglect leads to poor morale. In politics, such neglect leads to political failure.
  2. They listen before they speak. They listen with the intention of hearing, not merely responding. They have the courage to hear that which dismays others.
  3. They are highly visible. Visibility matters. It’s hard to be an “invisible” leader. When in the office, they practice leadership by walking around. Visibility fosters reassurance.
  4. They practice what they preach. People trust actions not words. Transformative crisis leaders understand they need to be role models. They cannot violate their own policies and mandates. To do so breeds distrust.
  5. They understand there is no such thing as an information vacuum. If the leader is not communicating truthfully, transparently and in a timely manner, they will lose trust and control.
  6. They have an optimistic plan or vision for not only surviving but also for prospering from adversity. They see beyond the constraints that limit others.
  7. They act decisively. They have the courage to act and even fail, understanding that failure can fuel subsequent success. 

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History and prudent speculation tell us challenges are coming for which the wise must be prepared. There will be another pandemic likely in 10 to 12 years, natural disasters are increasing in number and intensity, the financial landscape must undergo a dramatic change to address unprecedented deficit spending and social and political upheaval is likely. When choosing our current leaders and training our future leaders, it seems wise to emphasize these aforementioned qualities as they can guide us to not only survival but also successes that we never believed possible.

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