The ability to remain composed, adapt appropriately, and forge ahead in the face of challenges and opposition is at the very heart of leadership. In this age of constant change, disruption and upheaval, resilience becomes inevitable to the survival of individuals, organizations and nations. As someone said, “If we cannot control the volatile tides of change, we can learn to build better boats.”
Now resilience is not the result of genetic transference or a trait that a leader either possesses or does not possess. Resilience is a skill rooted in habits of mind that can be learned and developed, hence the common phrase a company’s staying power or a national culture of resilience, where an environment of mutual trust is created to allow people of diverse interests and skills respond adaptively to problems and challenges.
The 9/11 attacks which left an entire country devastated and the whole world in shock produced one of many such stories of resilience. It is the account of Cantor Fitzgerald, a bond trading firm that lost most of its employees when the first Tower collapsed. About a decade later, the firm which had lost everything in the devastating event was back on its feet. Speaking in an interview its CEO, Howard Lutnick, said none of the executives felt like going on. But in spite of how they felt about what had befallen them, Lutnick called his leadership team together and gave them two choices – give up or rebuild the firm so they could take care of the families of the victims. They chose the latter.
Lutnick’s resilience was hinged on seeing the bigger picture. He indentified a purpose for continuity. It would be near-impossible for leaders to move their organizations forward in the face of adversity if they do not see something in the horizon bigger than their current predicament.
The whole of scripture is one robust interwoven tale of resilience. From the creation of man for dominion, to his fall and restoration, we find different examples of individuals and societies who bounced back from severe adversity. One of such is Joseph.
God had given Joseph a vision. But a series of extremely adverse events that ran completely contrary to his dream befell him. In spite of these Joseph rose out of his ordeals to become the first foreign Prime Minister of any civilization recorded in history. This was because he maintained resilience in the face of adversity. And he did this by seeing the bigger picture. When confronted by the scared and remorseful brothers who sold him into slavery he said, “And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.So now it was not you who sent me here, but God.”
The legendary Nelson Mandela is a perfect contemporary example of resilience in leadership. Few leaders in history have been put through as fiery an ordeal as Mandela. In 1985 the apartheid regime had offered him a conditional release that compromised the core purpose of his struggle and leadership, but he turned it down. He withstood his adversities and won a great victory for his people by keeping his core purpose in view and staying resilient. This ties in with Andrew Zolli’s definition of resilience as the capacity of a system, enterprise, or a person to maintain its core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changed circumstances.
So if there is one quality the leaders of today must possess in order to navigate the complexities of our times, it is resilience. Today’s struggling global economy, pervasive terrorism, and growing unrest further buttresses this fact. We must, in the words of the Republican Senator, Alan Simpson, be a million rubber bands in our resilience. Leaders must remain optimistic in the face of adversity and failure and transmit the same to those they lead.
In our fight to expunge terrorism and bring the country to greater heights, Nigeria may be going through a difficult time. But we must keep going. It was Winston Churchill that said, “If you are going through hell, keep going.”
We must realize however that resilient communities are built by the concerted, informal, efforts of various leaders working behind the scenes to connect constituencies, build networks, merge agendas, share knowledge and perspectives and shape a better future for all. Do we have such leaders today? Whether political, tribal or religious? I believe we do. And I believe it is time for such leaders to emerge.
This is what we must continue to do as leaders in our respective spheres of influence. Hope must be kept alive. The vision of a united and prosperous Nigeria must be drummed up at every opportunity. New approaches, with all hands on deck, must be taken to deliver a safe and stronger Nigeria. Nigerians are a resilient people. We will pull through.
Nigeria Has a Great Future
Mr. Taiwo Odukoya is the Senior Pastor of The Fountain of Life Church. He writes a weekly column, every Sunday, on christian living for Premium Times. Kindly give him feedback via firstname.lastname@example.org