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Resilient organisational cultures don’t just happen by chance; so are you developing your leaders to create one?

By Lester Coupland


The dynamic of the global business context is often termed volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA). Crises are the new normal and organisations are seeking to become increasingly resilient whereby they can anticipate, prepare for, respond and adapt to incremental change and sudden disruptions in order to survive and prosper.

And prospering is key; for whilst organisational resilience is about avoiding or responding to adverse events, it is also about innovation and cultural change......and changing before the cost of not doing so becomes too great. 

However, several recent high-profile untoward incidents (for example, in the airline industry) have threatened the reputation of global companies and hint that organisations may still be overlooking signals and normalising problems.

''So where does leadership fit in all of this?''

The VUCA context means that the nature of leadership has changed requiring more adaptive and collaborative practices plus the collective action of multiple stakeholders working across hierarchies, boundaries and borders.

In other words, the leadership response to VUCA is, at least in part, to develop a leadership mind-set attuned and sensitive to the organisation as a wider system (and not just individual functions or divisions) and to what is happening in the external environment. 

''This change in the nature of leadership means that the nature of leadership development is also changing.''

We know that our clients find this a challenge; I recently analysed tender requests received by Cranfield Executive Development (CED) from potential clients and they include such descriptors as ‘a natural increase in VUCA,’ ‘leaders being better informed about the external environment, competition, VUCA futures’ and ‘leaders acquiring the necessary tools, readiness and preparedness to lead with confidence in a VUCA world.’

Even though our potential clients write this phraseology in their tender requirements, our initial conversations with them frequently (and understandably) reveal a mind-set of leader development, i.e, placing an emphasis on traits, attributes and styles because they see this as a way to rectify a deficit in individual leader competencies. 

Competency development is of course helpful; but it is not enough when it comes to embedding resilience into organisational cultures and integrating resilience into companies’ strategies and operations.

One of our purposes of our team at CED is to help our clients become more aware of leadership development and how we can partner them to design innovative programmes where the focus is on more collaborative approaches to address the complex challenges that their organisations are facing in this VUCA context and to shape organisation cultures which are genuinely resilient.


Find out more about our two day open programme with BSi at Cranfield School of Management.

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