Five Core Competencies to Staying Resilient at the Top

by Dean Becker, Vice President, Corporate Business Development

August, 2014

Over the past several years, we’ve noticed a growing interest in “Resilience”. First, executives are being pushed to their limits by years of highly volatile, resource-constrained conditions in their companies and in the markets they serve. Second, organizations are scrambling to identify and further develop top talent to fill key leadership positions created by both retirement and attrition. So I thought it would be useful to offer a few words on the subject.

Resilient leaders are first and foremost resilient individuals. The more resilient you are, the more likely it is that at each level you’ll be successful and get promoted to the next. But as the adversity level increases, the skills that most leaders have learned to stay focused, engaged and effective can begin to fail them. So the first key to being a resilient leader is to get a handle on one’s own resilience.

Most successful leaders have intuited at least a subset of these resilience skills throughout their careers. But they are largely “unconsciously competent” – unaware of how they reach into their resilience tool kit to stay composed, confident, optimistic and in problem-solving mode, especially when the going gets tough. When we teach them resilience skills, we see fewer “aha moments” than when we teach the skills to individual contributors and lower level managers. But what we do accomplish is to get them off auto-pilot, provide them with a vocabulary and a process so they can more consciously boost their resilience to do better as the going gets even tougher.

With their resilience skills firmly in place, leaders then need to develop strength in five core competencies to staying resilient at the top. We use Adaptiv’s Leadership Excellence Inventory® (LEI) to measure these strengths. Here’s a quick summary of each, with some questions to ponder:

Integrity & Fairness:

How much your do your management behaviors signal fair practices? How much you treat all your reports the same, create an even playing field for all employees, and provide a model of honesty for your employees? How transparent is your management process to all employees?

Mentoring:

How much do you emphasize coaching and career guidance for your employees on a daily basis? How willing are you to do one-on-one coaching with your direct reports and demonstrate how important succession planning is to you? How important is the role of mentor to you?

Values:

How aware are you of your values around leadership and how important are they to you in your daily job performance? Each of us brings core values and beliefs to our leadership roles. How willing are you to stick to your values even if it hurts your productivity or, ultimately, your career?

Connection:

How connected are you to your job and how much do you guide your reports to be more connected and engaged? Our research has shown that the higher your level of connection – with real line-of-sight to the difference you are making – the more satisfied you will be in your job and the greater your productivity and performance. And the more connected your people are, the better they and your organization will do.

Results: How bottom-line oriented are you? How important are measurable results for you as a leader?

All five factors are key, and it’s important to create a balance across them. Many excellent leaders are strong on Integrity, Mentoring, Values, and Connection. But, over-emphasis on Results often comes at the expense of the other four factors. In most cases, focusing on the first four factors will drive results more effectively than will focusing directly on results. Resilient and successful leaders learn to strike a good balance between Results and the other factors.