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In the past 18 months, leadership has been stress-tested like never before. According to research by Korn Ferry, RESILIENCE has proven to be one of the three key characteristics of all strong and successful leaders.

The problem with resilience is defining what it really is. We often think of resilience as ‘never giving up’, but in reality, the leader who never gives up might actually just be stubborn!

If you keep trying by doing the same thing repeatedly and not getting the results you want, you might be demonstrating stubbornness rather than resilience. This dogged determination and insistence on sticking to the same path or KPI may indicate stubbornness and insanity rather than resilience and learning. Remember the well-known definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result?!

We are quick to criticise others for doing this. Yet, if you stop to reflect on your own behaviours, you will probably find times when your determination to stick to the goal/outcome, despite you and your team getting no closer after many attempts … borders on the same insanity you are critical of in others.


Bamboo Versus Oak

Great leaders are resilient and flexible, rather than stubborn and rigid. They are like bamboo rather than like an oak tree. Bamboo can bend and flex in the wind. The oak tree is rigid and tries to withstand the wind.

In a predictable environment, the oak tree represents stability and wisdom. An old oak tree often stands out like a majestic beacon, a symbol of constancy and longevity. But in rapidly changing environments, it struggles to thrive, even to survive. In severe storms, the oak tree is at risk of cracking and breaking or even being wholly uprooted.

On the other hand, fast-growing and flexible bamboo weathers the storm. It bends to survive and then rapidly expands its root system and sends up new shoots to thrive.


Bamboo versus Oak


Flexibility is Critical

Resilience must be coupled with flexibility and learning. Your mantra as a leader must be ‘Don’t give up, but learn from each attempt, and adapt quickly’.

This means being an agile learner, super-charging the efforts you’ve already taken by looking for the best next step, rather than simply repeating the same steps. You must look for different angles and paths to achieve the desired results rather than fixated on a single pre-determined pathway.

Resilient leaders can enable their organisations to build this ‘bamboo resilience’ by investing in their people and capabilities. Such leaders encourage and coach their staff to think and act flexibly and with confidence.


Adaptation During COVID

We have seen this manifested in several businesses through COVID, where resilience and flexibility have enabled many companies to adapt and find alternative uses and new uses for core strengths and skills. This has helped them to survive, even to thrive during the pandemic.

A fantastic example of this ‘bamboo resilience’ is in Singapore Airlines. With so many flights cancelled, how could they hold onto their cabin staff? They thought differently about the talents and capabilities of these people. As a result, they creatively redeployed 300 cabin crew to provide non-clinical assistance in hospitals as ‘care ambassadors’.


Singapore Cabin Crew working in Hospital


This ‘bend and adapt’ approach meant that they utilised their crews’ strengths of showing empathy and delivering service to keep their staff meaningfully engaged and on the payroll. For hospitals inundated with sick patients, this meant their nurses and doctors could focus on the medical aspects of care and not feel so guilty about being unable to give their usual holistic patient care. They knew the airline staff were helping to fulfil that role.

At one of our clients, Hawkesbury City Council, the managers and their teams from the Art Gallery, Museum and Library set up excellent online exhibitions and educational presentations. This gave their community access to their rich resources during the lockdown. In fact, the joy has spread. These exhibitions and presentations have become popular with local residents and many people beyond their region, including schools in the bush. How brilliant that the ‘bamboo resilience’ of the team at Hawkesbury City Council has given access to exhibitions previously out of reach for students because they lived so far from the major cities.



Think about yourself and the other leaders in your business today. Are you like bamboo, resilient and flexible or like the oak tree, stubborn and rigid?

And the real challenge comes with the following question ‘And so what?’ What will you change? What will you try to do to become more ‘bamboo resilient’?