Sustainable leadership: the three types of resilience you need
From mindfulness to car pooling, here’s how to build the strength your business needs to thrive in a volatile world
Jan 6, 2019

Resilience is the capacity for adapting to – and surviving – radically changing circumstances. This includes anything from climate change and economic collapse to the threat of international terrorism and pandemic disease. To meet these challenges sustainably, leaders must cultivate three types of resilience.


On the individual level, resilience is about developing the personal capacity to thrive and survive in the most challenging of times. Human beings are complex and we need to develop strength physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually to be truly confident of facing whatever confronts us.

To do that, it helps to see the work we are engaged in as an opportunity for self-actualisation. Achieving a task is important, but how that task is completed and the individual’s experience is equally significant – perhaps even more so. Supporting people in being able to see their work as a place of meaning and purpose requires creating time and space for reflection.

Organisations need to encourage employees to have some time alone: to reflect, to contemplate, to generate responses rather than just reactions. Workplace quiet rooms are an obvious solution, but so is scheduling five-minute breaks between meetings, and creating conscious processes to open and close meetings.

Practising mindfulness and presence is also beneficial but, to truly strengthen resilience, they need to be practiced in an environment where the employee’s personal values and ethics are also honoured. Mindfully carrying out tasks and actions that the employee does not value will only create dissonance and dissatisfaction.

The group

As individuals we can achieve a certain amount, but if we harness the intelligence of a group and develop its collective wisdom we can achieve so much more.

To build group resilience, we need to consider questions such as: how is the group operating and what is my place within it? What enables the group’s energy to grow and what diminishes it? What is the atmosphere like in this meeting? How am I affecting, and being affected by, it? What type of leadership is emerging and how is it being taken and resisted? When are we being collectively intelligent and when stupid?

Over the years many practices have been developed to assist groups in developing resilience, from “appreciative inquiry” which accentuates the positive, to Otto Scharmer’s “U Theory”. Each of these processes has its own methodology, but at their core is the desire and willingness to move beyond the ego and to offer one’s contribution in service to the whole. This means identifying more with the corporate vision and purpose than with individual career opportunities. It requires the intention and capacity to serve something beyond oneself.


Finally, we need to put all our personal and collective efforts into a global context. How do major international challenges and changes impact us? Not only do they threaten our way of living and call into question many things we have taken for granted – such as cheap travel, an endless supply of water and secure pensions – they also call forth a response from us. What does the world need from our corporations now? What is their planetary purpose and contribution?

If organisations are tuned into their responsibility for global resilience, this will mean writing a comprehensive range of policies on environmentally-friendly supply chains (energy, paper, food and so on), sourcing sustainable building materials, recycling practices, providing incentives for car pooling, walking and cycling, and developing corporate social responsibility plans that really make a difference.

At the Findhorn Foundation ecovillage where I live, for example, we are pioneering a way of life that leaves one of the lowest measured ecological footprints in the developed world, at around 50% of the UK average.

Developing resilience on personal, organisational and planetary levels is not only imperative at this time of global emergency, it will also lead to a deeper experience of personal wellbeing, to the harvesting of collective intelligence and wisdom, and to organisations starting to articulate and live their planetary purpose. Without this, both inner and outer indicators will show they have no future.