Resilience, the core trait of individuals and systems that demonstrate the ability to absorb and recover from stresses and shocks, offers a new and powerful perspective as we face 21st century challenges.
What is Resilience?
From an ecological perspective, resilience is the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks. Walker and Holling et al 2004.
With a pro-active, forward-looking orientation, resilience is about not just surviving - but thriving - through hardship and change. It is about going through the pain and coming out stronger for having experienced it.
Why do we need it?
Today’s world demands a new leadership orientation.
Modern trends require leaders to put resilience into practice:
- Relationships and interactions between human beings and the natural environment are becoming increasingly complex and unpredictable.
- Embedded structural dynamics are undermining resilience - including optimization of single variables, increased specialization, and a diminishing capacity to decouple critical goods and services from larger networks when shocks hit.
- These trends result in a VUCA world context (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity), with higher probabilities of large disturbances and shocks. Lawrence, 2013.
In order to thrive in this global context, 21st century leaders must rethink traditional modes of decision-making and project execution, putting resilience and adaptability above long-term strategic planning and hierarchical decision-making. To be effective, leaders must understand the complex interactions between people and the natural world. They need an open orientation and capacity to adapt – sensing changes in the environment, connecting the dots between diverse disciplines, and forging partnerships across traditional boundaries to create enabling conditions for breakthrough innovations.