Leading the Tribe #12: RESILIENCE

Eight years ago, at ICM Associates, we had the intuition that our developed world was somewhat out of breath and that it had to prepare for repeated and devastating shocks. For many industrial and corporate sectors, the issue would be less one of development than one of survival. There had been crisis in 2008 and in 2011. Today the pandemic that is bringing much of the world economy to its knees. The shock is enormous. 

In fact, companies are no longer having to simply “manage change”, as managers have been told for decades. The reality is that businesses today are facing a change of unprecedented magnitude. Therefore, managing change is no longer a “nice to have” but a matter of survival. We’ve been farsighted. Companies today have to resist enormous pressures and guaranty survival in our complex, chaotic and unpredictable world.

In other words, they must be Resilient!

The concept of Resilience goes back to the 70’s in the US, mainly in clinical psychology. Resilience expresses the ability of an individual or a group to get through turbulent or crisis situations: to resolve them, learn from them and find a new sense of equilibrium.

In 2002, ICM surveyed companies through the lens of Resilience, using various techniques such as interviews, questionnaires and focus groups. We could see that some organizations are better at it than others. They develop a kind of “plasticity”—just like the human brain—that allows them to hold up in the face of the storm and also draw the full advantage of those moments when things calm down. These organizations are thus in a state of “ever-readiness” and this will allow them to ensure their sustainability.

Our observations allowed us to respond to several questions about the characteristics of these organizations. What made them like they were? What did their leaders, managers, teams, and individuals do that others did not? What energies did they harness that allowed them to go beyond engagement and achieve the resilience required by these turbulent times? We found it had to do with different “Energies” that allowed teams to deliver the “little bit more” that captures the minds, hearts, and muscles that teams need to survive and perform today.

There are four Energies and they are observable and measurable. Our job is to help our clients to mobilize these energies.

The Beauty of Clarity

In ancient Greek, the word Krisis, from which we derive “crisis”, means clarity, justice, decisions. Clarity is essential, even when the environment or the future seems hazy and threatening.  In such moments, if it is difficult to set objectives, it is always possible to agree on principles of action, on ways of working that respond to the urgency of the moment. We call this Beauty of clarity. Applied to organizations or individuals, The Beauty of Clarity is the clarity of directions, of principles and values as well of organizations, processes and roles. The Beauty of Clarity describes those perfectly adapted competencies and practices, whether at the individual or team level, that enable an organization to react fast and just right.

There’s something so perfectly aesthetic about these. We don’t talk about “an elegant solution” for nothing! We have never needed clarity more because we have never been in such a continuously mobile, confused, chaotic and oftentimes threatening global, interrelated environment as we are today. During these times of repetitive crises, the Beauty of Clarity is more important than long checklists about crisis management—which are rapidly outdated since, by definition, the crisis is unpredictable in its form.

Clarity does not mean knowing what the future is made of. It is often blurred and uncertain. It means that we are clear about why and how to act in a world that has become threatening, uncertain and unpredictable.

The Power of Drive

We are talking about physical and emotional commitment, the ability to engage oneself, inspire others and to be followed. The Power of Drive is the ability of an individual or group to engage and fight for their convictions, for what they stand for, and pull others along with them. The History of Humanity, with capital and as well as lower case letters, is full of people who have held their own against terrifying odds. Churchill, Mother Theresa, Gandhi are obvious examples. But there are also companies where teams fight like demons for their survival. And people like those in the slums of Bombay who fight for their kids to go to college just because they believe that education is a survival issue. A company, a leader, a manager, an individual—each can have, communicate and share convictions that will give meaning to a business venture, to decisions on what to do and when, and to the commitment that is required from the troops.

After all, you can only recognize a great leader by the energy and commitment of those who follow him! One does not follow, or for a long time, someone who does not commit him/herself to what he or she offers.

The Bonds of Solidarity

In her work, Emma Werner, an American psychologist who pioneered the field of resilience, illustrates how much solitude weakens an individual’s capacity to go through tough times. The same idea was picked up by Boris Cyrulnik in France, who used to say, “You need an entire village to raise a child”. In combat times, soldiers say “stick together!”.

In organizations, the most serious burnouts occur from isolation. Matrix organizations, a common feature of global complexity, very often conflict-ridden, seem to bring out “each one for him/herself” behaviors. Yet, in this situation, people need mutual support within their teams and more broadly with all stakeholders. A collaborative culture, that is the only thing that allows a matrix organization to work harmoniously and efficiently. It sometimes has to surpass silos, procedures, processes and systems. When we think about how our systems and procedures will have to adapt in the aftermath of this crisis, individual initiative will be just as important as top-down planning.

The Bonds of Solidarity provide the emotional energy that ensures all individuals feel responsible, acknowledged and supported when they need it.

The Magic of Inspiration

When our recipes no longer work, we have to invent new ways of doing things. Shocks such as the pandemic raise profound questions.  Can we continue as we did before the crisis? Will our future simply look like our past? What do we need to change? Some people will rely on the past and fall back on their habits, invest in what is in fact the problem. Others will find other ways and adapt. Darwin is always hidden behind a crisis.

This energy, which pushes us to abandon, sometimes painfully, our habits to define new practices, is essential to survival. we must then consider a period as stressful as the one we are going through as an opportunity for innovation. Telework will have a considerable impact on the life of organizations. How can it be made as efficient as collocated activities? Teleworking, remote teams, remote management, all this already exists and must be made as efficient as working on site. Confidence, innovation, creativity, the ability to try solutions, to fail and bounce back, all this will contribute to the future success of champions.

ICM Tools and Methods

We work for our clients at two distinct levels: at the level of organizations or teams on the one hand, and at the level of individuals on the other. Specific approaches are required. At ICM Associates, we have developed and implemented, with our clients, tools to measure resilience.

At organization level, a light questionnaire, based on our research, is used to evaluate a “Resilience Index” and to measure how the team/organization scores on each of the four Energies. On the basis of this assessment, the team or organization can share the findings, identify its strengths on each of the four Energies and collectively design and implement sustainable and well-targeted development actions.

At individual level, through a seminar or personal coaching, each person can better measure and understand the situation he or she is experiencing, better control his or her fears and limiting beliefs, and define personal strategies to control the anxiety inherent in the crisis situation we are all going through. 

Charles Gancel

April 2020


ICM Associates (Paris) is a member of the PAWLIK Consultants (Hamburg)

Have a look at Step 1 Leadership definition

Have a look at Step 2 The world as it goes

Have a look at Step 3 Facing dilemmas

Have a look at Step 4 Leader tomorrow

Have a look at Step 5 Leading from above

Have a look at Step 6 Leading from ahead

Have a look at Step 7 Leading from beside

Have a look at Step 8 Leading from among

Have a look at Step 9 Leading from behind

Have a look at Step 10 Leading from far

Have a look at Step 11 Leadership Program




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