Weather Chaotic Times Through Resilient Leadership

Leadership is challenging during the best of times. Add the crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, and effective leadership becomes even more complex. For example, without face-to-face meetings, it can be hard to find time to motivate and coach your team. In this volatile and uncertain environment, setting a course of action for your team can be difficult and fraught with tension.

In the December 2020 Career Connection (p. 21), I wrote about building personal resiliency by employing tactics such as adopting an agile mindset, allowing space for your emotions, and making conscious decisions. As leaders in a time of crisis, we must not only adopt these personal resiliency tactics, we must also build our team’s resilience.

According to research conducted by the leadership development platform BetterUp, resilient leaders are critical to an organization’s survival. How well a leader manages challenges, for example, is predictive of how well their team members cope. In addition, teams led by resilient leaders exhibit almost three times more resilience and experience significantly less burnout.

Employ these strategies to become a resilient leader and foster resilience in your team.

Act with deliberate calm

“When others are stressed and in crisis mode, detach yourself from the situation so you can think more clearly about how to navigate the situation. Then, invite others into your calm rather than joining their chaos,” says Mark Polson, leadership advisor and founder of innovation consultancy Polson Associates.  

Do something instead of nothing

You may be tempted to put off decisions or actions until the pandemic is over. That is the wrong move, says Merete Wendell-Wedellsborg in her book Battle Mind. “It is better to act and make a decision than not to act,” she writes. “The consequences are often greater if you decide not to act. A willingness to take risks is a precondition for being able to act under pressure.”

Encourage your team to take incremental steps, assess and learn from the outcomes, and then adjust their next moves.

Counter isolation and stress with empathy

While working remotely has benefits, it can create an environment where team members feel more anxiety. Be compassionate and allow your team to express their concerns about health matters, job insecurity, heavy workloads, or isolation. “Encourage your team to talk about what they’re going through. Parents, for example, may be feeling particularly stressed as they juggle childcare and remote learning. Take the time to listen and respond with empathy,” says Polson.

Communicate with transparency

Build trust and alleviate anxiety by talking candidly with your team. Share what you know and what you do not know about your organization’s status and challenges. Provide members with frequent and realistic updates, and let them know they can reach out to you with questions and concerns.

Foster psychological safety

“Create an open and safe environment for your team, where individuals know they won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, or mistakes,” says Polson. Fostering psychological safety enables team members to make sense of a situation and work toward common goals.

Tactics for promoting this environment include giving respectful feedback, collaborating and sharing ownership for project work, including the team in decision-making, and sharing your own doubts and discomforts. “I see an enormous difference in leaders who express their insecurities, because it goes both ways. When you dare to tell your team about the issues you struggle with, they will follow suit,” says Wendell-Wedellsborg.

Manage stress

Adequate sleep and exercise can help you feel more energized and optimistic. This, in turn, can give you the psychological stamina to lead your team more effectively through a crisis. Encourage your team members to de-stress as well by making time for team bonding. For example, you can host a virtual team event, such as a trivia competition or cooking class.

Look for growth opportunities

Think about what steps you and your team can take now so your organization can emerge stronger after the pandemic. Hold weekly or monthly meetings to share knowledge and conduct training exercises. During these calls, for example, tech-savvy team members can train others to use relevant technology applications and more-experienced individuals can share subject-matter knowledge.

Work with a leadership coach

Coaching can help you to quickly build your resilience skillset and become a more effective leader. Many of these coaching services can now be delivered virtually.

This article originally appeared in the Career Connection column of the February 2021 issue of CEP. Members have access online to complete issues, including a vast, searchable archive of back-issues found at