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Leader Resilience the Prerequisite for Transformational Leadership


In the present economic, social and business context, leadership is a crucial topic of discussion for companies across the globe. We live in truly exceptional times and face challenges that can’t be overcome with the leadership styles of the past., We, therefore, must find answers on how leaders can and will succeed in our VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous). These unprecedented times require outstanding leaders who can lead and flourish in this changing environment. It is no longer acceptable to tolerate ‘old school’ leadership styles and allow people to abdicate responsibility for their role. A new focus is needed in leadership. Those selected to lead must deliver consistent transformational leadership to enhance outcomes for the organisation and its people. In this context, the relationship between transformational leadership (Bass, 1998) and resilience is key to understanding the new frontier of leadership that we are facing.
Research has clearly and consistently shown that great things happen when leaders deliver a transformational leadership style (Bass, 1998; Bass & Avolio, 1990 Bass & Riggio, 2006). We know from comprehensive and ongoing research that transformational leadership is a driver of excellence in the workplace. It builds individual capacity, enhances engagement, and the visionary aspect is crucial in adapting to our changing environments. Authentic transformational leaders adjust to challenges and obstacles as they arise and ensure that people are taken on the journey to success.


While research has told us the importance of transformational leadership and has provided the strategies to develop effective transformational leaders, there continues to be ongoing global concern over the lack of effective leadership and leadership development (Howard & Wellins, 2009). This is where the link between transformational leadership and resilience is critical. Research tells us that without resilience, it is impossible to deliver a transformational leadership style (Folan, 2019). So, no matter how much we invest in developing the transformational capability of the leader, we will always end up in the same place if we don’t first shift their resilience levels. Because without resilience, people are unable to deliver and maintain a transformational leadership style. For years, we have educated people on the behaviors they need to deliver to demonstrate a transformational style. Yet, we can still look around and see people who do not exhibit these behaviors even when they have been trained in them. What we need is not more training and development focused on developing a transformational style. We need instead to concentrate on developing the internal ability of people to lead themselves and build and maintain their resilience.


During the last ten years, we have seen the emergence of research identifying the importance of the relationship between resilience and leadership (Folan, 2019; Garbowski, 2010; Offutt, 2011). Clear evidence now shows that they go hand-in-hand and that being a successful leader is impossible without being resilient. The most outstanding leaders of our time—the ones that will go down in the history books as positive role models and icons of leadership—build their resilience, support the people around them to enhance their teams’ resilience and grow their organisations’ capacities to succeed and bounce back from challenge and adversity.
A synergistic relationship exists between resilience and transformational leadership. Our ability to deliver a transformational leadership style that engages and motivates others relies on a commitment to developing resilience. Leaders and practitioners who work with leaders have intuitively known for a long time that resilience and leadership are intricately linked. Research now supports this understanding, and there is a call for a new focus in leadership and leadership development. Organisations need to realign their strategies towards enhancing resilience to build transformational leadership capability. A leader without resilience is like a car without gas—it just won’t get you very far. No matter how many skills the leader has developed or how competent they are, like the car without gas, the leader is going nowhere without resilience. The importance of resilience in leadership cannot be overstated: it is the fuel that enables effective leadership.


It is imperative that we stop putting people into leadership positions who are not prepared or uninterested in building their resilience. The focus into the future needs to be on selecting and promoting people who want to lead and who are actively developing their resilience to enable a transformational leadership style.
Now more than ever, in our VUCA world, finding ways to separate the organisation from your competition and deliver sustainable success is crucial. An effective leadership style is one of the greatest identifying and distinguishing factors amongst highly successful companies. Show me a company delivering sustainable results, and you will be able to point to a leadership team that is the driving force of this success. Show me a company that is failing, and this failure can be attributable to ineffective (or corrupt) leadership. Transformational leadership is the driving force that carves out success for individuals, teams, and organisations in the VUCA world. And resilience is the essential attribute that enables the delivery of a transformational style of leadership.
Understanding the inter-dependence of transformational leadership and resilience will support organisations in building success. This will deliver enhancements in organisational results and support positive outcomes for all those involved in the business. Resilience is indeed the new frontier of leadership that will enable leaders to deliver transformational skills.
Written by: Dr Lynda Folan author of ‘Leader Resilience, The New Frontier of Leadership.’ Lynda is an Organisational Psychologist and a renowned specialist in Leadership and Organisational Development with considerable expertise in leading organisations through transformational change and cultural evolution.