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Homepage / Leading Through Uncertainty: Ownership and Openness in Organisational Resilience

Leading Through Uncertainty: Ownership and Openness in Organisational Resilience


In the realm of organisational resilience, the human factor plays a pivotal role, one that often remains underappreciated in traditional risk management paradigms. This thought piece critically examines leadership and culture as a cornerstone of organisational resilience.

Leadership: The Guiding Beacon

Resilient leadership fundamentally challenges traditional leadership paradigms that emphasise (task) delegation, risk aversion, and hierarchical structures. It advocates for a more holistic approach characterised by ownership, critical and open communication, and embracing the big picture and worst-case scenarios, not as deterrents but as drivers for adaptation and agility.

In the face of the unexpected, resilient leaders transcend the conventional role of mere decision-makers. They assume the mantle of stewards who guide their organisations through turbulent times with a blend of foresight, empathy, innovation and critical discourse. This style of leadership is grounded in the understanding that the unexpected do not just represent threats but opportunities for learning, growth, and transformation.

Ownership is a cornerstone of resilient leadership. These leaders do not shy away from responsibility; they embrace it, recognising that their actions and attitudes set a tone that resonates throughout the organisation. They stand at the forefront, willing to navigate uncharted waters, making tough decisions when necessary, but always with an eye towards the collective big picture (such as the future of the organisation).

Critical and open communication is another vital aspect of resilient leadership. Transparent and honest communication helps in building trust, a commodity that becomes all the more valuable in uncertain times. Resilient leaders encourage critical dialogue, listen actively, and are not afraid to show vulnerability. This approach fosters a culture of trust and mutual respect, which is essential for navigating the unexpected effectively.

Embracing the big picture and worst-case thinking sets resilient leaders apart. They do not confine their vision to the immediate fallout of a crisis; instead, they assess its potential long-term impacts on their organisation and its stakeholders. This broad perspective enables them to prepare for various scenarios, including worst-case ones, not as an exercise in pessimism but as a strategic approach to ensure preparedness and agility. By considering the full spectrum of possibilities, they position their organisations to adapt and pivot effectively, turning potential challenges into opportunities for growth and innovation.

Organisational Culture: The Resilience Bedrock

Organisational culture is the undercurrent that shapes employee behaviour and organisational responses. A culture that promotes resilience is one where learning, adaptability, and collaboration are ingrained values. Such a culture does not emerge overnight; it is cultivated through consistent messaging, policies, and actions that reinforce these values.

Fostering a culture of resilience involves more than just motivational speeches or occasional team-building exercises. It requires a systemic approach that encompasses hiring practices, performance evaluations, and daily operational procedures. The challenge lies in overcoming resistance to change, especially in organisations with entrenched norms and values that may be antithetical to resilience.

Towards Organisational Resilience: Managing Tensions

The essence of organisational resilience is rooted in acknowledging and embracing tensions rather than overlooking them. A notable tension exists between traditional command-and-control leadership and resilient leadership. Traditional leadership often leans on delegation, risk aversion, and maintaining hierarchical structures, while resilient leadership underscores the importance of ownership, open communication, and the ability to adapt and innovate. To bridge this gap, organisations can initiate leadership development programmes focused on resilience. These programmes should aim to transition leaders from an authoritative style to a more collaborative one, teaching them to embrace uncertainty, communicate openly, and view challenges as opportunities for learning and growth.

Communication within many organisations tends to be guarded and filtered. This approach contrasts with the needs of resilient leadership, which calls for transparent, honest, and critical communication. To cope with this disparity, organisations should establish platforms for open dialogue. Regular town hall meetings or anonymous feedback channels are effective ways to promote transparency. It is crucial for leaders to actively participate in these forums, showing a commitment to listening and adapting based on the feedback received, thereby modelling the openness they wish to cultivate.

Regarding strategic thinking, tension often arises between the traditional focus on immediate task management and the resilient leadership approach of considering long-term impacts and worst-case scenarios. To navigate this, organisations should adopt strategic planning that incorporates scenario analysis and assessments of long-term impacts. Enhancing leaders’ abilities to think strategically about future scenarios through specialised training can significantly improve their preparedness and ability to engage the unexpected.

Finally, many organisations face a cultural tension between an entrenched resistance to change and the need for a resilient culture that embraces learning, adaptability, and collaboration. To address this, organisations should gradually foster a culture of resilience. This can be done through consistent messaging, policies, and practices that promote adaptability. Steps might include revising hiring practices to focus on adaptability, altering performance metrics to reward innovative thinking, and conducting regular resilience training. This gradual, integrated approach can help shift the organisational culture towards one that is more resilient and adaptable.

For further insights into the tensions encountered in managing the unexpected and strategies for coping with and navigating these challenges, please refer to the following resource:

To learn more about the Business and Management MSc (Online) at Cranfield School of Management get in touch with a member of the team via email.

Dr. Elmar Kutsch

Written By: Hayley Rook

Director MSc Business and Management

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