Resilient Leadership: 12 Traits of Successful Leaders

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This is the 4th guest blog in our series Lessons in Resilient Leadership, written by Troy Cicero, the President and Chief Skill Officer of MulticultuReal Communications. With a background in anthropology, psychology and sociology, Troy is creating welcoming workplaces. In this blog, Troy outlines 12 vital traits resilient leaders must develop.

Over the last two decades as a trainer and consultant at MulticultuReal, I’ve witnessed many organizations talk about diversity and inclusion, yet struggle. Struggle to develop quality human connections, achieve business objectives and manage complex organizational issues. I’ve also witnessed incredible leadership and organizational transformations. 

So, what traits must leaders possess to be effective and truly succeed in our ever-evolving, often turbulent world? What do resilient leaders think, say and do to build respectful, productive relationships and organizations?

Here are 12 traits that I believe successful, resilient leaders must espouse:

1. Self-awareness

Understanding oneself is integral to resilience. It also builds the bridge to understanding others. Exploring our upbringing, experiences, values and beliefs helps us to understand how our personal identity influences our view of others. The assumptions we formulate about others ultimately impact the decisions we make. If we rely solely on our point of view, we will make mistakes in judgment because of ingrained biases, stereotypes or prejudices.

“We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.”

2. Empathy

People trust and respect leaders who seek to understand where others are coming from. Empathy is not just “putting yourself in other people’s shoes”, but in their reality. Listening with your heart as well as your head creates collaborative and cohesive relationships. Empathy is the great equalizer. You can say you care, but empathy conveys you care. You can say you respect, but empathy conveys you respect. It’s not what you say that matters, it’s what you convey that counts as a resilient leader.

“The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases. Each of us carries his own life-form.”

3. Emotional intelligence

There will be resistance and tension in the leadership space. Emotions and feelings have the tendency to manifest our attitudes, actions and behavior. You can be extremely intelligent, but if you can’t get along with people, then how can you possibly be a successful leader? To be resilient, leaders must exhibit proactive behavior, while managing and regulating their emotions and personalities. Reactive behavior is reckless and certainly not conducive to resilient leadership.

“You can’t shake hands with a clenched fist.”

4. Broad perspective

Resilient leadership involves an awareness of others and the environment. Leaders must make unpopular decisions and choices, particularly in crises. Maintaining a broad perspective affords you a keen sense of direction when formulating decisions and enables you to minimize dissent. Keeping a healthy sense of humor is a part of broad perspective.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

5. Cultural competence

We operate in a multicultural world, society, community, and workplace. Every culture in the world has rules or guidelines about specific areas that tell members how to behave the right way. A danger sign that may predict a lower level of resiliency is a belief that “there is only one right way to do things.” Leaders must be mindful to acknowledge within and challenge their assumptions, biases, and rules they live by. Resolving conflict that arises from cultural differences is a key skill of resilient leaders.

“My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.”

6. Communication

Open and honest communication enables you to connect with people who feel fear, anger, stress, anxiety and uncertainty. Resilient leaders listen for understanding, monitor and manage their body language, share information, acknowledge feelings, present facts, give and receive challenging feedback, manage expectations, act upon the input of those they lead and clarify where necessary.

“Sinawa (the Great Spirit) gave us two ears and one mouth in order that we might listen twice as much as we talk.”

7. Compassion

Compassion is the heart of leadership. Being attuned to other people’s emotions and needs gains people’s respect and loyalty. Exclusionary behaviors or actions cause people to walk away and never return. Resilient leaders recognize how they make people feel, because they have a keen frame of reference, so they will do the little extras to show and share their heart even when it requires vulnerability.

“We must learn to be vulnerable enough to allow our world to turn upside down in order to allow the realities of others to edge themselves into our consciousness.”

8. Commitment

Leaders must commit fully to implementing resiliency efforts. People will not follow an uncommitted, detached and unstable leader.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

9. Vision

The ability to assess and understand the impact of resiliency on the organization, the benefits of resilient leadership, and a leader’s role and influence on the culture and direction of the organization is a great value to an organization.

“One person with vision is greater than the passive force of ninety-nine people who are merely interested in doing or becoming something.”

10. Conscious responsibility

Complacency and denial endanger progress. Resilient leaders need to deal with potential dangers or deficiencies. Leaders who view resiliency as a “to each its own” proposition, rather than an ongoing strategy and responsibility, jeopardize growth and profitability.

“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”

11. Accountability

An obligation and willingness to accept responsibility and account for one’s actions. Resiliency requires work and truth. The leader sets the tone. Accountability is measured through business systems, strategy, standards, mission, vision, values, goals, objectives, and rules, as well as, on a personal level… thoughts, emotions, attitudes, actions and behavior.

“We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community. Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.”

12. Tangible engagement

A resilient leaders’ character is reflected not by the spoken or written word, but by their actions and behaviors. Resilient leaders remain active in shaping organizational culture and building community. The leaders’ behavior and actions, in the end, become the determining factors for integrity, credibility, trust and civility.

“We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.”

Did you like this blog or find it helpful? Click here for more of our Resilient Leadership guest blog series.

Are you a leader who has powerful insights to share with others? We’d love for you to contribute to future series. Email Katie, Worldmaker’s Communications Manager at katie@worldmakerinternational.org to learn more.

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