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Resilience through reflection: Seize the everyday opportunities to adjust your leadership

The phoenix is a mythical bird said to live for centuries. As it approaches the end of its life, it settles in a perfumed nest, turns towards the sun, and sets itself ablaze by flapping its wings and blowing on the flames. Nourished by the ashes, a young phoenix later emerges, flying away on strong, new wings and starting the cycle anew.

In a world where change is the rule and stability the exception, standing still is a disadvantage. If we do it for too long, we risk having to tear ourselves down to the ground before rebuilding, just like the phoenix. However, it would be nice if we could meet change without resorting to such dramatic measures. So, how do we do it?

The organization as a perpetual stream

A few years ago, Jacob Storch urged us in a thoughtful (Danish-only) pamphlet to reconsider leadership as an endeavour continually subjected to the living organization's inevitable and continuous reinvention in the face of changing circumstances.

There is no place where a leader can stand outside this movement: one finds oneself in the midst of it, in a shared destiny with the rest of the organization. You cannot stop the change, only involve yourself more or less judiciously in it.

And you cannot necessarily control the outcome of your engagement, only be interested in what arises. As the foreword quotes Niels Bohr: "We are at once both actors and spectators on the great stage of life.

Liberation of undramatic irreverence

For me, this perspective is incredibly liberating and promising.

Liberating, because it makes it legitimate to openly discuss that leadership is necessarily imperfect, regardless of any individual leader's striving, skill, and conscientiousness. Instead of standing firm and outwardly displaying more certainty than we may feel comfortable with deep down, it frees us to exhibit "irreverence" towards our own assumptions and curiosity about the new that may arise. Instead of unquestioningly enforcing known dogmas and routines, it frees us to show openness and appreciate ingenuity.

Promising, because an organization in constant motion continuously creates natural opportunities to adjust course and adapt actions. If we are attentive and take advantage of these opportunities in daily life, we can over time contribute to significant, helpful changes—without unnecessary and perhaps disruptive drama.

Promising, because precisely this ability for undramatic, ongoing, and mutual reinvention of both our professional selves and our collaboration can be the key to creating organizations that can sustainably welcome change and serve their stakeholders in a way that remains relevant. In other words, to create resilient organizations.

Incremental reflection put into practice

One of the things we have practiced in the technical world over recent years is how to systematize reflection and reflexivity. Retrospectives, inspect and adapt, feedback loops, huddles—the same phenomenon has many names. The point is that we create regular opportunities to step back from the storm of the present and create a temporary calm to collectively reflect on how things have gone, where we are heading, and what adjustments we might try.

By doing this frequently, we attempt to nip the worst dramas in the bud. By integrating it into everyday life, we seek to reduce the distance between thought and action. By doing it together, we aim to create the cohesion and good relationships that are the foundation for good results in the long run.

It's not always easy or harmonious. But when it works, it can be an essential tool for translating the ambition of organizational resilience into practice.

Resilience through co-created rethinking of leadership

We often see the payoff of systematic reflection being highly dependent on whether employees feel managerial support for these activities and for the inquiries and improvement items that may arise from them. It may be essential to have a readiness to assist when help is requested.

But it may be even more important that you, as leaders, practice what you preach. So, ask yourselves:

  • How can you strengthen your practice of collective reflection on your leadership?

  • What everyday opportunities for leadership reflection could you benefit from making more use of? And what can you do to better recognize and take advantage of them?

  • How do you ensure that, together, you strike the right balance between respectful adherence to what exists, and curiosity about what may arise?

  • What specific opportunity is currently available for you to revisit an aspect of your leadership and translate it into noticeably changed patterns of action?


More generally: How do you create ongoing conditions to continue flying on strong wings? So that, unlike the phoenix, you don't risk having to set the organization on fire before the new can emerge?

Ulrik H. Gade

Follow me on LinkedIn - questions and comments are very welcomeWant to know more? Check out our workshops, talks and action learning programmes on flow-based leadership. 


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