Resilient Leadership: Learning from crisis – an experiment in reflective learning during the Covid-19 pandemic

This report focuses on the role of leadership for resilience – leadership that promotes and enables complex systems (in this case corporations and large cities) to function and thrive in the face of a major crisis.

Resilience is the ability to withstand, adapt to changing conditions, and recover positively from shocks and stresses. This applies to physical infrastructure assets, and to the wider system that these assets are part of including the natural environment, the organisations that own and operate these systems, and the humans who make decisions across the value chains for these systems.

The Resilient Leadership project has been an experiment from the outset, conceptualised and pulled together in a somewhat incredible fourteen days as the coronavirus pandemic was gathering momentum in late March. The ideas we most wanted to test were:

  • If we asked senior leaders to set aside half an hour every week for 16 weeks to have a reflective conversation about what they were facing, during possibly the most challenging professional period of their lives, would they agree to this? And would they find it valuable enough to stick with it?
  • What if we mixed leaders from global corporations with leaders from major cities? Would they find each other’s experiences and insights relevant?
  • Would the weekly conversations – intimate and unstructured as they were to be – yield any worthwhile lessons learned that outsiders might find helpful and actionable?

That the answer to each has been a resounding “Yes” is a tribute to the extraordinary openness of our twelve participants – each of them a willing and determined companion in the quest to find what good leadership means in a crisis. It is also a tribute to our project team’s corresponding attentiveness and dedication through an intense few months.

We hope you enjoy the riches that lie in these pages.

Publication date: 14 October, 2020
Authors: Our deepest gratitude to the twelve participants who joined us on this four-month journey and whose invaluable insights are the bedrock of this report: Corporate Leaders - Peter Chamley, Hany Fam, Dr. Stephen Hammer, Barbara Humpton, Tom Lewis, Elaine Roberts, and Ann Rosenberg. Chief Resilience Officers - Dr. Adriana Campelo, Mahesh Harhare, Craig Kesson, Alexandria McBride, and Piero Pelizzaro. We would also like to thank the Resilient Cities Network for supporting the collaboration with Chief Resilience Officers from their network. Lastly, our thanks to the project team, without whose tireless efforts this project would simply not have been possible: Peter Willis, Siddharth Nadkarny, Seth Schultz, Shivani Ghai, Femke Gubbels, Jenny Soderbergh, Helen Civil, Dave Hall and Roman Svidran.