Building Resilient Leadership into Your Research

Written by Dr Jeremy Mead, Founder and Director of Resilient Leaders Elements Ltd and Director of Leadership in Action


Over the last 15 years our landscape has changed dramatically; social media and fake news have undermined people’s confidence in institutions and conventional hierarchy. Now more than ever great leadership is so important. But what is leadership?

Leaders are only leaders if they have followers. People follow authentic leaders who know their strengths and are candid about their weaknesses. Great leaders are dynamic, stepping forward at the right time and stepping back to allow others to lead when necessary. They also have vision and the ability to convey that vision in a compelling way.

Leadership is needed in all spheres of life, at all levels and in all parts of organisations. We all have the opportunity to exhibit leadership and it’s likely you will already have demonstrated it, whether in your day-to-day work as a researcher, on a sports field, in running a seminar series, or through involvement with a voluntary organisation. Whether or not you are currently in an ‘official’ leadership role, developing your leadership skills will make a significant contribution to your success in getting things done, forging collaborations and advancing your career.

Most researchers comment that demands on them are greater than they were a year ago. Work doesn’t get any easier and there are usually growing pressures from family, friends and other commitments.

That’s where Resilient Leadership comes in. A Resilient Leader knows where they are strong, their areas for development, what takes them from pressure to stress and how to rebalance. They have confidence in who they are and what they do, so that they create, build and take opportunities; bouncing back, knowing they will find a way through uncertainty, change and even crisis.

Over the last 20 years I have worked with people to first understand what makes a resilient leader and then use this understanding to help people build their resilient leadership. The Resilient Leaders Elements is a very practical framework which has been developed to help people develop their leadership:

Clarity of Direction and Resilient Decision Making address what people do as leaders. This is the cognitive intelligence that makes sure the best decisions are made in pursuit of well defined outcomes. Awareness and Leadership Presence address who people are as leaders. This is the emotional intelligence that has others want to follow you.

You will have noticed that Resilient Leaders pay equal attention to the cognitive and emotional aspects of leadership. It is very easy to fall into the trap of assuming that the smartest person should lead (particularly in academic circles). The truth is that anyone can lead and the best person needs to step forward for each situation and others need to encourage and support them to do so.

Develop your Resilient Leadership right now:

Here’s a short exercise to help you build your Resilient Leadership and which addresses the first part of our definition: “A Resilient Leader knows where they are strong, their areas for development…”

  1. Read the descriptions of each of the Elements
  2. Which is your strongest?
  3. Which needs the most development?
  4. What do you do well already in each of the Elements?
  5. What could you do better in each of the Elements?

Now find someone you trust and take them through the answers to these questions. Make sure you do more of the things you already do well and make a decision to address one development area through some simple actions.

We have developed an on-line resource called the Resilient Leaders Development Programme. This is used in King’s Leadership in Action programme to allow people to identify their strengths and development areas before the course and to measure the impact of the programme as a whole.

In the latest Leadership in Action programme it came as no surprise to find that typically participants had significant strengths in making robust, well researched decisions (Resilient Decision Making). They were authentic and worked in service of others (Leadership Presence). In contrast, development areas were mainly in the areas of Awareness and Clarity of Direction.

On average, participants grew their Resilient Leadership by over 20%, with around 30% growth in Awareness of Self and Others.

The programme consistently gives people confidence in their leadership such that they feel more prepared to step forward when required as well as the confidence to step back and let others lead when appropriate. This not only increases their own performance as researchers but also the effectiveness of their groups and collaborative partnerships in which they are involved. Ultimately, by making the most of each person’s capabilities better research gets done.

Focusing on building Resilient Leadership across an organisation such as King’s delivers the capability to create, build and take opportunities in our ever more uncertain world.