Communications Blog • 7 MIN READ

The elements of resilient leadership in troubled times

Written by Jason Barker

The COVID-19 pandemic is having the ongoing effect of altering the dynamics of the global workforce. The business world is experiencing unprecedented disruption and turmoil – so where the heads of organizations direct their focus during these troubled times is what will define them as resilient leaders.

It’s becoming clear that what we once perceived as ‘normal’ in the workplace is quickly evaporating. In the early, unpredictable days of this crisis, the threat landscape changed almost overnight, and the focus became entirely on business continuity. But now, as the crisis progresses, and we hopefully navigate towards a recovery of sorts, the focus is more all-encompassing than just keeping a business running until things return to ‘normal’.

In this blog, we’ll take a look at how leadership is evolving along with the traditional values and norms of the workplace, and what they need to do, to enable not just survival, but transformation, growth and innovation within organizations. We’ll also look at a case study showing how some organizations in China are responding to the crisis conditions. And in later blogs we’ll delve into what that response looks like in other countries in the APAC and MEA regions.

From response to recovery

We have been forced into a new world of remote working, managing new technologies, understanding changing policies and developing new strategies in the workplace. In this new ‘interim normal’, leaders are being called upon to envision the mindset shift from respond to recovery.

From Respond to Recover

What makes a resilient leader?

Leaders have had to contend very quickly with the fact that this is a fluid, continuous emergency, not a one-time event. This has placed extreme demands of agility in navigating uncertainties, forward thinking and shifts in organizational mindsets on business leaders. Global organization Deloitte has identified the three phases of crisis response.

Respond – react, prepare and manage continuity

Recover – learn and emerge stronger

Thrive - the ability to confidently prepare for the next normal

Truly resilient leaders are defined by:

Who they are

The five primary distinguishing abilities a resilient leader must have that make the difference between surviving and thriving in a post-COVID future are:

  1. The ability to stabilize what is happening ‘today’ and pilot both the situation’s positive energy and negative constraints towards an innovative ‘tomorrow’.
  2. The ability to demonstrate to your employees, customers, communities and ecosystem that you have their best interests at heart.
  3. The ability to dispel misinformation, fear and rumor to create a vision of a compelling future and a clear path forward.
  4. The ability to empower teams with decisive action and courage in a volatile environment.
  5. The ability to stay focused on what lies ahead, whilst instilling confidence and steadiness across your entire ecosystem.

What they do

There are three main dimensions by which resilient leaders are defined:

Priorities – Identifying the functional areas most at risk during a crisis, such as command centre, talent and strategy, business continuity & financing, supply chain, customer engagement, digital capabilities etc.

Timeframe – identifying the right time to pivot from Respond to Recover to Thrive.

Accountability – Defining who is responsible and/or accountable for each priority in the organization.

The specific actions that resilient leaders take in managing priorities, then responding, learning, leveraging and recovering will enable organizations to thrive and transform in a post-COVID workplace.

Great businesses are built with great people

The importance of being a resilient leader is more than just operational continuity and an organization’s bottom line. One attribute that many great leaders have in common is that they put their people first. People-centred leaders care about both people and results, and this has never been more important than during this crisis.

Uncertainty and fear is common in the workplace during a crisis. The focus of leadership expands into knowing your teams’ resilience factors. Things to consider:

  • Keeping tabs on how they are responding individually to remote working and managing their workdays.
  • Redistributing or restructuring workloads to help accommodate personal or family commitments if necessary.
  • Keeping them informed, energized and motivated by creating a vision of a successful future will instil trust and encourage resilience.
  • Offering coaching and support to help them adapt to the new working environment.

Case study: Learning from success in the emerging recovery

Countries in the APAC region are taking their first tentative steps towards economic and social recovery. Due to the implementation of lockdown and quarantine measures in China earlier than the rest of the world, there are certainly some things we can learn from companies in the region who have navigated this period with success and are emerging in a promising direction. It’s an important advantage for recovering economies to modify the Chinese model of simultaneously trying to contain the virus and restore the economy at a faster pace.

  • Leading companies significantly improved epidemic response mechanisms by establishing emergency response teams to assess risks and create strategies.
  • After the initial outbreak, companies began implementing flexible work arrangements for middle and back office staff to minimize on-site work while meeting basic operational requirements.
  • Chinese companies ensured domestic product supply by accelerating investment in digital trading solutions. This alleviated supply chain interruptions, logistics and labour shortages, and local access limitations.
  • Companies quickly moved to maintain open and ongoing lines of Businesses rapidly opened lines of communication with their customers on the impacts of COVID-19 and the emergency actions implemented. This working in partnership has built confidence amidst the uncertainty.
  • Companies are developing digital roadmaps for the short, medium and long term. For resilience to occur, companies have realized the importance of implementing digital capabilities. In the service industry for example, they have promoted “no touch” experiences in order to shift away from “bricks-and-mortar” presence.

Around 20% of China’s GDP comes from exports, with the UK, US, Germany and France being their biggest markets. Global demand is therefore key to its recovery and how long the shock lasts. In the West, recovery will have an impact on their own recovery.


COVID-19 is a humanitarian tragedy and it continues to disrupt millions of lives. Good leadership is crucial and one key positive takeaway is that this crisis represents an opportunity for leaders to create more team cohesion and innovation in the face of adversity.

UCC is enabling leaders to become more resilient by keeping the workforce connected. A solid UC infrastructure has never been more important, as it enables leaders to confidently take their businesses forward into a brighter future. It also highlights the value of IT and how without the technology we have now come to rely on, there can be no growth.

Topics: Communications Performance management Video

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