AuthorTiclau, Tudor
  1. Introduction

    The pandemic environment that the world has experienced starting with 2020 has created major challenges to governments across the globe. In this context, resilience has become a 'go to' concept in trying to understand what are the drivers and factors that positively influence an adaptive and 'bounce back' response in adversity conditions. We have argued previously (Ticlau, Hintea and Andrianu, 2020) that unpredictable change and what we can call wicked problems or dealing with turbulence (Ansell, Trondal and Ogard, 2017) is becoming the rule rather than an exception, thus understanding what creates and drives resilience in any system is essential in responding in an effective manner to these types of challenges.

    The current article tackles the issue of resilient leadership (based on the concept of individual resilience (Ledesma, 2014)), coupled with elements of workplace resilience (Cooper, Flint-Taylor and Pearn, 2013) with the purpose of highlighting the experience of women leaders in two types of organizations (for profit and nonprofit) and how they adapted to the challenges raised by the pandemic in the last 18 months (1). As the main focus of our study was to explore and understand how leaders have coped with the adversity conditions of the pandemic and draw insights into potential patterns and coping mechanisms across the two sectors (for profit and non-profit) we used a qualitative approach: we collected and analyzed data using interviews (N=10) with women leaders from the for-profit sector and the nonprofit sector. Specifically, we wanted to: (1) identify and understand the major shocks (and challenges) the leaders faced during the last 18 months of the pandemic (2020-2021); (2) evaluate the impact and response to the shocks, and (3) identify (if possible) potential trends and common factors of influence concerning the response and overall recovery from the exposure to the shock. In the first part of the paper we briefly cover the theoretical framework concerning resilient leadership, we discuss the methodology used and finally present the major findings on the three research goals we focused on.

  2. Resilience and resilient leadership

    One of the first general definitions of the resilience concept (Holling, 1973) highlights the ability of a system to bounce back or return to equilibrium following a disturbance. Modern approaches in studying the concept have remained constant in focusing on adaptation and adversity--Wright, Masten and Narayan (2013, p. 17) refer to resilient behavior as 'positive adaptation in the face of risk or adversity'. These two conditions (shock/adversity and positive response) for resilience to manifest itself are present when narrowing the focus to individual level: the ability to overcome adversity, recover, and emerge strengthened, successful and develop social, academic and vocational competence, despite being exposed to severe psycho-social stress (Grotberg, 2001) or the ability to overcome adversity, recover and strengthen themselves by developing favorable competencies to adapt to changes that may involve psycho-social stress (Eachus, 2014).

    A thorough analysis of how the concept evolved in the scientific literature (Ticlau, Hintea and Andrianu, 2019) indicates that although initially individual resilience was mainly the focus of psychology, recently the perspective has broadened, with significant research from the field of organizational studies: change management (Conner, 1993) and leadership (Ledesma, 2014; Forster and Duchek, 2017). In an institutional context, individual resilience is relevant from a leadership perspective, or resilient leadership, being defined mostly as the capacity of leaders to remain effective in adverse surroundings (Forster and Duchek, 2018).

    Scientific literature on the topic of resilient leadership can be divided in two major approaches: (1) focus on individual trait/characteristic of a person (leader)--personal quality that predisposes individuals to bounce back in the face of loss or adversity, and (2) focus on the process--a dynamic process encompassing positive adaptation within the context of a significant adversity. These studies, although not going beyond personal (individual) factors, do conceptualize resilience as resulting from the interaction of several personal characteristics.

    There is also a string of modern research (Forster and Duchek, 2017 and 2018; Fletcher and Sarkar, 2013) that tries to combine the two by studying how resilience capacity develops over time while incorporating the interaction between the individual (and the individuals characteristics) and the environment. This is highly relevant for workplace and institutional resilience as it can offer insight towards drivers or factors that influence both individual and institutional resilience. Concerning shocks or adversity, the literature is mostly covering workplace specific adversities faced by leaders which can refer to: general workplace trends that affect the entire labor market like certain economic trends (Bennis, 2007--globalization, instant communication, new media), social change (demographic changes) but also specific workplace adversity (which is related to holding a formal leadership position)--'long work hours', 'demanding schedules', 'non-stop meetings' and 'hectic travel schedules' (Quick et al., 2003).

    Finally, coming to the issue of adaptation, in the context of resilient leadership, adaptation is seen as the capacity of the individual to change in order to respond better to the requirements of the external environment. Adaptation becomes more important when the external environment changes; the bigger the change the more important the capacity to adapt to the new conditions. In this context, drivers of leadership resilience (which implies capacity to adapt) refer to those factors that influence an individual's capacity to sustain and adapt to adversity or shock. The scientific literature (Forster and Duchek, 2017; Cooper, Flint-Taylor and Pearn, 2013) proposes three major categories of factors:

    --Individual factors: this line of study focuses on individual traits, behaviors or even demographic variables that have a direct influence on resilience. Elements like confidence, social support, adaptability and purposefulness are identified as having a positive effect on individual resilience;

    --Behavioral factors refer to personal and interpersonal behaviors that increase resilience and include three categories of specific behaviors (Fletcher and Sarkar, 2013): (1) behavior that aims to increase the effectiveness of work processes,

    (2) behavior that focuses on the social or relational aspects of work, and

    (3) behavior focused on free-time activities;

    --Situational factors refer to context or characteristics of the situation that influence leadership resilience, like: (1) resource and communication, (2) control, (3) work-life balance and workload, (4) job security and change, (5) work relationships, and (6) job conditions.

    Concerning variables that influence individual (leaders) resilience and capacity to thrive in adverse situations, the literature groups them into two main categories (adapted from Ticlau, Hintea and Andrianu, 2019; previous analysis by Carver, 1998; Ledesma, 2014):

    --Internal factors (Ledesma, 2014) refer to internal variables of the individual that impact resilience--self-factors, personality factors, or individual resources. The literature is quite broad on their nature, we highlight some that have been proven to have a positive effect on resilience--hardiness, coping ability, a sense of coherence, the use of personal resources, cognitive resources, threat appraisal, and self-efficacy (O'Leary, 1998); modes of thought, response, action, positive self-esteem, a sense of being effectual, and being in control of one's surroundings (Beardslee, 1989); optimism, empathy, insight, intellectual competence, direction or mission, and determination and perseverance are characteristics reported also to be present in thriving individuals (Ungar, 2004). These factors appear to have significant impact on how a person interprets and deals with the crisis at hand.

    --External factors refer to variables placed outside of the individual that have influence over the ability to remain resilient in the face of adversity. Of the external variables defined, the most compelling and most consistent finding (according to Ledesma, 2014) indicates the importance of relationships (Beardslee, 1989; Masten, 2001; O'Leary, 1998) and benefiting from social support (Bonanno, 2004; Carver, 1998; Nishikawa, 2006). Carver (1998, p. 252) notes that 'a person experiencing a traumatic event finds that help from others is readily available; that the significant others in his or her life can be counted on, and that the result can be a positive change in the sense of the relationships involved. The person may experience a strengthening of the sense of security in those relationships... Perhaps, then, the person who experiences ready availability during a period of adversity acquires an enhanced sense of security in relationships. In principle, this would permit the person's future exploration to operate a more secure base'.

    Individual (and leadership) resilience is usually conceived as a dependent variable in most studies with several drivers or factors influencing resilience being part of what is called organizational setting. According to Cooper, Flint-Taylor and Pearn (2013, p. 17) the focus should be on 'the interplay between the personal characteristics of employees, the main sources of workplace pressure and support, and the processes by which resilient outcomes are achieved'. Starting from this assumption (2), workplace resilience is the result of interplay between individual resilience and a series of work related settings that can have a positive or a negative influence on the response to the shock.

  3. Methodology

    Given the main objectives...

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