Hold on Ulysses! The Art of Resilience

Today we find ourselves limping from one crisis to another. And we cut, and cut, and cut. We cut costs (a necessity); we cut personnel (a tragedy); we cut hopes (a mistake) – and in the end, we cut the fun out of our lives (a disaster!).

Who can take five years of this? Professional cost killers, maybe, who make a living out of the crisis. But the rest of us?!

Over the past three years, we have been working with clients who are all focused on one basic question: How can we continue to deliver quality performance when the world is turning upside-down? How can we live through adversity without killing enthusiasm, commitment, loyalty, and fun?

This is where two things come into play: leadership and resilience*.

In ancient Greek krisis means judgment, clarity, and decision. And Charles Darwin once wrote, It is not the strongest that survives, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most adaptable to change.” So here we are! The ability to guide people and teams through hard times and change is exactly what makes great leaders different from so-called leaders. These people convey their passion and optimism no matter what difficulties they face. They learn from these difficulties.

They inspire others.

We can learn from these leaders as we can learn from crisis. Yes, troubled times are opportunities to learn something important about our business, about organizations, about our colleagues, about ourselves.

Our convictions

Working with our clients through these past years we have learned from them. And we have formed some clear convictions about what the resilient ones do and how. They have led us to develop a powerful process for galvanizing the troops despite tough times.

  • Step 1: Spell out “the Muse of Fire”: Shakespeare wrote “O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend / The brightest heaven of invention…“. It’s one thing to agree on strategic objectives. It’s another to spell out the passion and the imagination that are needed to move forward in adversity. Leaders in tough time do this. They will trigger buy-in to the relevant and focused efforts, to those fundamentals to concentrate on over the next 12 months in order not only to survive, but to grow and perform.
    People engage in real efforts when they are meaningful, consistent with the “dream” and recognized. No need to list 100 priorities on PowerPoint here. A limited number of key initiatives to work on, tightly connected to that “Muse of Fire” is more than enough.
  • Step 2: Draw lessons from the battle: While getting the troops on board, the real leaders focus on the specific capabilities and skills their teams must develop in order to be more resilient. They start with equally specific questions: How can we get beyond uncertainty? What do we need to do in order to control our destiny and be successful? Each one of the successes and achievements is highlighted as a victory against adversity. These key learnings are then integrated into the common knowledge base of the group. You never forget the skills you acquire in a storm (as the sailor’s adage goes, and I’m one of them).
  • Step 3: Share the passion, be together: In other words, what are the five actions, ideas, routines, and principles individuals can apply during these difficult times in order to reinforce the “togetherness” and the solidarity that will make each one of us feel we are both supported by others and responsible for them? Let us not forget the importance of pleasure, fun, and celebration of our quick wins and solidarity in these troubled times.

Over the past twelve months, articles and management books on “well-being” abound. Is this really all that surprising given the suffering around us? Well-being cannot be disconnected from reality. You can’t create resilience just by setting up some exercise bikes or ping-pong and foosball tables… Passion is serious business. It can’t be left to gym paraphernalia. It must be thought through and lead!

The Art of Resilience is the “little bit more” that enables exceptional leaders and managers to guide their teams through adversity while keeping morale and performance high.

Ulysses never gives up. At the end of the day, and with a little help from his friends, he wins.

*Definition of resilience by Karl E.Weick: “The essence of resilience is the intrinsic ability of an organization (system) to maintain or regain a dynamically stable state, which allows it to continue operations after a major mishap and/or in the presence of continuous stress.”




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9 Responses to “Hold on Ulysses! The Art of Resilience”


  1. By Mike Alcala
    on February 19, 2012

    Hi Charles,

    Great post. And one that I agree with. Spot on.



  2. By Virginie Boucinha
    on February 21, 2012

    Thanks for the post and highlighting that resilience has to be led, it is not just a given. Best

  3. Nice article Charles. Glad to see you are all not only holding on but thriving too!


  1. New blog post: "Hold on Ulysses! The Art of Resilience" http://t.co/HZlLSZoa #crisismgt #management #mgt #leadership #resilience #changemgt

  2. New blog post: "Hold on Ulysses! The Art of Resilience" http://t.co/HZlLSZoa #crisismgt #management #mgt #leadership #resilience #changemgt

  3. Cut cut cut ! “@CharlesGancel: #Leadership A new ICM Post on Resilience, quite useful at the moment… http://t.co/bdsjhkcs”

  4. "Share the passion, be together" The Art of Resilience http://t.co/KPq8TmwL via @ICMAssociates

  5. @OPOuk Very good and clear examples ! Thnx. We also wrote about resilience & shared some management tips about it: http://t.co/2rqinZlz

  6. Thanks for the RT @ICMAssociates: @OPOuk Very good and clear examples ! Thnx. We also wrote about resilience: http://t.co/wzKEMcWw