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Resilience: The two things leaders can do to change culture

Resilience: The two things leaders can do to change culture

An organisation’s culture plays a critical role in its resilience. The culture underpins an organisation’s ability to change and adapt and shape the environment. However, it is the senior leaders, including chief executive officers (CEOs) and specifically the board of directors in any organisation that play the most critical role. 

Recently, the Australian Attorney-General’s Department oversaw interviews to more than 50 CEOs. These leaders were mostly in non-critical infrastructure roles and were asked to determine their understanding of organisational resilience, ambiguity or uncertainty and bouncing forward.  Two critical behaviours emerged from the interviews.

The 2 critical behaviours to build resilient organisations

The two critical behavioural attributes were:

1. leadership, and

2. trust.

No surprises there? What we say and do exemplifies what we believe. For people to trust us, we have to connect with people in our communities at a values level. This brings about the key to all of this which is focus. This was found as the number one behaviour in building resilience – a focus on ensuring values were right, so that trust in leadership could be developed.

Now it all makes sense when you think of a war scenario where men are asked to be courageous. Battle fronts are full of uncertainty, complex change and ambiguity. Who will soldiers follow? Will they follow a sheepish leader? Will they follow leaders who demonstrate courage or the values they aspire to?  Naturally, it is the second type of leader.

Further to this point, values when demonstrated as responsible and accountable practices by focused leaders, are associated with building to long-term resilience according to the survey also.

In a resilient organisation, the organisation’s purpose will have such clarity for its employees that it is a key source of motivation for its staff“.

Simply knowing the purpose of an organisation is not the same as believing in it. In times of change, disruption and ongoing developed stress, it is the belief that makes the difference. Think about the war again and soldiers following leaders they admire – whose values strike a chord and who demonstrate those values. Perhaps we need to look at our strategy, our goals and the culture you can create to be resilient.


The questions then that arise:

How clearly developed are your organisational goals?
Is your organisational strategy needing a tune up?
We work with your culture to deliver better in that space at Strategic Directions.

Learning: the way ahead for us all
Specifically, the concept of learning includes being comfortable with ambiguity (the ability to make choices where there aren’t any clear guidelines). The nature of complex change at the moment is forcing new levels of not knowing. Donald Rumsfeld in his “Unknown unknowns” press conference eluded to this.

What is interesting is that Rumsfeld was lampooned for his point which was probably made in response to being in a difficult place under questioning regarding Iraq and US foreign policy! However, his salient point is that ambiguity and “unknown unknowns” are a good place to start with when addressing ambiguity. We just don’t know some things. However, we can focus on our values and demonstrate them, and create a resilient culture from the top down.

Naturally, taking learnings from experience and acting on the basis of the resulting interpretations, being creative, and persisting in finding solutions to unfamiliar situations are demonstrations of resilience you may be practicing now. 

Strategic Directions has been helping regional authorities and other organisations find solutions, develop resilience and through our benchmarking insights, have helped to deliver results since 2003 – some of those with International Awards.

Be sure to call us. We would be glad to let you speak with some of clients to find out just how we do it better.