AuthorVan Wart, Montgomery
  1. Introduction

    In the leadership literature, the concept of resilience nearly always is in the top ten most desirable traits for leaders (Van Wart, 2014). The reason is obvious, because without perseverance or 'stick-with-it-ness', little of significant consequence is likely to get done, no matter how many other good traits a leader may have. Without resilience, given the challenges that confront leaders of nations or organizations, the prospects of long-term success are modest, and the possibility of failure is great.

    Resilience has only been highlighted as a leadership style in-and-of-itself occasionally, until recently. However, the challenges of leading in a world that has become markedly more polarized, dealing with a worldwide pandemic, and moving very slowly to avert a climate catastrophe, have stressed the need for leaders who can not only assess problems and put forward solutions, but endure the painstakingly long time it may take to get things of value done.

    Normally resilience is examined as an exclusively positive attribute. Indeed, unlike some other leadership attributes that are best to have in moderation (e.g., self-confidence and decisiveness), resilience is a characteristic in which we normally say more is better (Van Wart, 2014). However, upon closer examination, there are negative opposing versions of all the top leadership characteristics. That is, instead of leaders being self-confident, decisive, energetic, and ethical, they can be egotistic, rash, lazy, and self-serving. Resilience, too, can have its negative version when combined with other corrupted traits. Bad leadership that is also resilient is able to slither around the ethical imperatives that confront it, hypnotize people to oppose their own best interests, create problems that they themselves can then heroically fix, and so on.

    This essay looks at how resilience can be disfigured in a corrupt context by bad leadership. Sadly, this type of leadership has become all-too-common in the current political world. When you add resilience to toxic leadership, you 'supersize' the problem and create vampire leadership.

  2. Design of the article

    The argument will begin with a brief review of resilient leadership. Other pieces in this paper will explore the literature on the positive aspects of resilience more deeply. To provide the type of positive context in which we normally assume resilient leadership will exist, we will use servant leadership theory as the ethically-focused framework. It provides a positive version of the other top ethical leadership traits. Then we will turn to leadership when it is occasionally self-serving, dysfunctional, and/or weak. This type of leadership we will label and discuss as toxic leadership. Such leaders have characteristics that we may consider bad, but they may be counterbalanced by some good characteristics, may use bad characteristics intermittently, or may not have the capacity to implement a wide-ranging bad agenda. Finally, we will discuss vampire leadership, in which the leader not only exhibits negative characteristics most of the time, but when they have an unethical agenda, they want to implement and, due to their resilience, have a good chance at success.

    The article will illustrate examples of positive and negative leadership exclusively with US presidents. Because of his extraordinary efforts to divide and conquer American society, Donald Trump is used as the most comprehensive example of vampire leadership.

    It is important to note that the use of historical examples in a normative essay can be prone to exaggeration, superficiality, or caricature no matter whether they are positive or negative. Using out-of-context examples is illustrative, but can be merely glib as well. The authors have tried to be sensitive to these caveats, and also want to acknowledge that even very bad leaders can do some very good things occasionally, and vice versa. We do not mean to suggest that our positive and negative examples necessarily represent a president's overall character or legacy, with the possible exception of Donald Trump.

  3. Resilient leadership

    While different scholars and practitioners do not have a single list of the prime characteristics of resilient leadership, there is wide support for four major factors: preparedness, steadfastness, energy, and adaptability.

    When people are prepared--both leaders and followers, they are much more capable of meeting, overcoming, and even potentially using serendipity when challenges occur. Good leaders ensure that governments and organizations are always ready for routine and predictable challenges as a fundamental principle of management --disruptions caused by market cycles, the need for technology updates, etc. Yet responsible leaders also plan for unusual or long-cycle challenges too, such as the recent pandemic, the likes of which the country had not seen for 101 years. While the U.S. government was not responsible for providing support before, during, and after catastrophes in the 19th and early 20th centuries because it was considered a state and local function, after World War II major federal support of catastrophes became expected. By 1979, Congress finally created the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to replace the ad hoc structures that had formerly existed at the federal level. Nonetheless, it was poorly organized and headed by political novices. In the George Herbert Walker Bush presidency (the first of the two Bush presidencies), federal response was extremely slow in the three major hurricane disasters and the Loma Prieto Earthquake in California. The public outcry was huge and played a small part in the loss of his next election. President Clinton (1993-2001), seeking better national preparedness, seized the opportunity to appoint the first professionally-trained emergency manager as the head of the agency, gave it more authority and a clearer structure, and elevated the agency to Cabinet rank. Not surprisingly, the agency did not receive significant criticism of its handling the 348 declared disasters during the Clinton Administration (Witt, 1997). When FEMA was demoted under George W. Bush, and a political hack was again appointed as agency director, the agency experienced disastrous criticism in its mishandling of Hurricane Katrina (devastating New Orleans) which was responsible for 1,833 deaths. President Clinton was prepared, but neither his predecessor nor successor were.

    Steadfastness is the ability to go the long distance with fortitude, and despite set-backs. People who are steadfast are often said to be able to 'bounce back' after challenges. Many people think of this as the most critical aspect of resilience. Many presidents could be used as examples, such as Abraham Lincoln or Ulysses S. Grant. The example that will be used here is George Washington (1789-1797), the first U.S. president, while Commander of the Army during the American Revolution. During the Revolution he was responsible for 17 major battles. Washington lost seven, had a draw in four, and won only six, most of which were more symbolic than important except for the morale boosting they inspired (Ellis, 2005). While a capable tactician, his troops were more poorly trained and supplied, and much more likely to decamp for home on a moment's notice. Thus, his superb ability to retreat and his tenacity to 'fight another day' was as important as winning battles. By steadfastly keeping his army fighting and thus drawing the French into the war, Washington was able to surround the largest concentration of British troops at Yorktown, effectively ending major military conflicts until a peace treaty could be agreed to.

    While success generally has the helping hand of some good fortune, crises do not. One important element of rising from the depths of set-backs or defeat is energy. The president who undoubtedly is most known for his energy was Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909), often referred to as Teddy, or T.R. The most famous American naturalist of the day, John Burroughs, said: 'He is doubtless the most vital man on the continent, if not on the planet, to-day. He is many-sided, and every side throbs with his tremendous life and energy.' Although a sickly, pampered child, Teddy Roosevelt toughened up after losing his first wife and child by becoming a hard-working rancher in the West, and fighting in the Spanish American War and leading the Rough Riders. During his presidency, he not only created the basis for the largest park system in the world, but he personally inspected much of it. He took on enormous, very-powerful monopolies that were strangling innovation and broke them up. Finally, he jumped at the possibility of taking over the malaria-infested Panama Canal fiasco, later visiting it despite its high death toll at the time. His most memorable moment of irrepressible energy is when he was running for re-election in 1912 and was shot in the chest just as he was about to start speaking. He apologized to the crowd, said that he would have to shorten the speech, stanched the blood with his hand, but did not finish for 90 minutes when he was finally taken to the hospital (Goodwin, 2019).

    Resilience is not just the ability to be ready for challenge, to persevere, and to do so with energy, resilience is the ability to adapt and evolve with necessary change. Teddy Roosevelt's distant cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-1945), or FDR is a good example of adaptability. Probably the most politically gifted president in American history, as demonstrated by his serving four terms, he had to completely reinvent himself after catching polio when he was 39 and becoming paralyzed from the waist down. Realizing that a dour, wheelchair-bound individual would not be a political success, he remolded his external personality to become a seemingly ever-buoyant individual, even while he practiced statecraft at a world-class level (Goodwin, 2019). Another example is...

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