Resilient leadership

In Chinese, the word crisis consists of two characters. The first character means danger, the other means opportunity. And that is precisely the challenge of leading in a crisis. You live and work in an environment where dangers and opportunities abound, challenging you daily to make choices. 

As a professional, you make choices within your field and the consequences of your choices may be small or large, but they are usually clear. As a manager, the consequences of your choices are usually unclear and affect all your employees, customers, colleagues and, of course, yourself. If 20 percent of your employees (in the care sector) are home sick and overtired, if 20 percent of your customers do not pay your bills or pay them very late, if your turnover drops by 40 percent within a year, then you and I are faced with decisions that have enormous consequences.

And these are just the “dangers”. The “opportunities” that are (often) hidden in every crisis also challenge us to make choices and set priorities again and again. ‘Am I going to invest all my time in the survival of our company now, or am I going to take the time in the middle of the crisis to discover what my customers need now, tomorrow and the day after?’

Crisis costs time and energy!

Therefore, the first of 5 essential leadership qualities in the crisis is resilient leadership. 

Here we distinguish three elements that together make up resilient leadership:

1. Personal resilience 

As a leader, it is your responsibility to take good care of yourself. There are 7 resilience competences that together ensure that your resilience is at a healthy level:

  • A reconciled past and emotional stability
  • Realistic optimism and a lifestyle of gratitude
  • Problem solving ability and healthy assertiveness
  • Focus on developing and using your natural talents
  • Discipline and a healthy lifestyle 
  • Passion and meaningful living
  • Relational skill and the will to maintain healthy relationships

The beauty of these 7 competences is that they are all interlinked. If you train one of them, the other 6 will grow with it. As a leader, it is vital to keep training your resilience. Therefore, every year, choose one of the 7 resilience competencies to train, specifically this one, that year. In addition, it is essential to build your own support team. Which 3, 4 or 5 people around you are available to you as sparring partner and/or friend during your marathon?

2. Organisational resilience

As a manager, how do you address all employees in your organisation? How can you support everyone, even in the midst of a crisis, so that they also consciously start training their personal resilience? Help them to get a good insight into their personal resilience competences. Where are they already strong? Where do they specifically need training? And then facilitate all professionals to start and sustain their own tailor-made resilience training. Then also stimulate social resources within your organisation:

  • Positive collegial relationships
  • A culture of appreciation
  • A culture of constructive feedback and feed-forward
  • Intervision groups where professionals continue to learn together
  • Available mentors
  • Inspiring and facilitating leaders at all levels

Besides a positive culture, a resilient organisation also needs a healthy structure. To build and maintain resilience sustainably in your organisation, you need structural resources.

  • Job matches talent: people learn to use as many of their intrinsic talents as possible in their current job
  • Mastery: professionals continue to be challenged to grow in their profession
  • Mission and vision: many professionals can link their personal mission to the mission of the organisation
  • Healthy finances: the organisation and all employees continue to strive for healthy finances and the level of debt is minimised

3. Skin in the game

Nassim Taleb wrote the book Antifragile. In it, he describes how resilience creates the basic conditions for continuing to live and perform healthily in the crisis. But in addition to this, it is important for managers to go a step further, and to grow into “antifragility”. Here, the executive consciously steps into the crisis, faces the danger with a fair amount of assertiveness, calculates the risks and then takes those risks that he deems necessary to use the crisis to achieve a meaningful transformation of the organisation. And one competence plays an essential role in this:

“Skin in the game” managers:

  • take personal responsibility and consequences for everything they say and do 
  • make courageous choices with heart and soul and constantly making them understandable to everyone in the organisation
  • are honourable in all choices and consistently maintain integrity 
  • surround themselves with others who also give their “skin in the game”. And invite those who do not, to leave the organisation.
  • give “soul to the game” and continue to grow in honest mastery, with the desire to create quality and beauty in everyday work 

Where can you start to develop this first leadership quality in the crisis?

  1. Choose one of the 7 resilience competences and create a training plan of daily and weekly training elements
  2. The book “Resilience” by Paul Donders gives a complete manual on how to build the 7 resilience competences as well as the 4 social and the 4 structural resources.
  3. Build your own support team. Find one or two training buddies with whom you will train together. Start a peer support tribe to meet at least 4 times a year to learn with and from each other.
  4. Enjoy life with all that! Be good to yourself regularly!

Door: Paul Donders


  1. Resilience – Paul Ch. Donders
  2. Skin in the game – Nassim N. Taleb
  3. Atomic Habits – James Clear