The 2023 UN Global Compact-Accenture CEO Study reveals that 93% of CEOs are tackling at least ten concurrent challenges, ranging from inflation and climate issues to cultural splits and workforce disruptions.

Increasingly, CEOs are now also frequently required to navigate morally ambiguous issues without prior examples to guide them. They need to maintain their ethical standards and push forward bravely, despite facing resistance, in addition to managing routine leadership tasks.

The same resilience is required in other common leadership scenarios. Perhaps the CEO must defend the organisation against an aggressive takeover bid, face down activist investors, or stand up to a board wishing to take the organisation in a direction that does not align with the mission.

What’s more, they must generate the energy to create impact through presence, make bold decisions in proposals, and handle emotionally-fraught conversations with tact and level-headedness. They must do all of this, while operating in increasing ambiguity and with the expectation of driving short-term results at pace.

Addressing these challenges demands proactive foresight to intercept them early, self-awareness to confidently choose a stance, and the wisdom to select which conflicts are worth engaging. Central to these critical leadership skills is a core of personal fortitude, strong willpower, and firm conviction—essentially, leadership resilience.

Numerous experts provide strategies for developing this resilience on a personal level. While these methods are beneficial, CEOs also have access to additional resources that can help them develop and sustain long-term resilience.

Here are three unusual sources of resilience leaders can develop and draw upon in times of need.

1) Develop “challenger” allies you can rely on

CEOs, whether they rise through the ranks or are appointed externally, must identify and connect with the right supporters within their organisation. Top-tier leaders quickly evaluate the strengths of potential supporters, both within and outside their direct teams, in order to build a supportive network. Importantly, these supporters should be both willing and able to challenge and aid in the CEO’s success.

These types of leaders then leverage their influence and allied team to rally the organisation around a common purpose — forming an aligned and reliable group that supports them during ups and downs. This support system enables the CEO and the team to effectively manage crises and periods of growth while avoiding burn-out. It gives the CEO additional flexibility, more time to determine the best actions, and reduces stress during critical decision-making.

With this support, CEOs are more confident in tackling and resolving issues between teams and team members if necessary. This helps nurture relationships and forms cooperative leadership that builds collective trust.

2) Master focused decision-making to create capacity

CEOs need to master quick, clear, and focused decision-making without compromising on quality. They must quickly confront issues with determination, clearly define the problem, and set desired outcomes.

Being decisive involves clarity at every step of the decision-making process. Initially, it’s about understanding the criteria for decisions. Next, it involves exploring various angles and perspectives thoroughly. These steps require multi-party stakeholder engagement (including the challenger allies). Lastly, there’s a firm commitment to executing the decisions. Done correctly, this method promotes quicker, superior decision-making.

Successfully navigating from a problem to a considered multi-party decision builds energy, creativity, and momentum among team members. This dynamic capability is essential for a CEO to efficiently handle multiple, challenging agendas with speed. It effectively creates resilience by providing the CEO and their team with additional capacity through load-sharing.

3) Look to the board as mentors and guardians

High-calibre CEOs often evaluate the benefit they derive from their board, asking, “What value does my board add to my leadership?” The answer should be: overseeing strategic direction and providing critical insights, advice, guidance, and support. Board members, typically seasoned through economic downturns and business hurdles, should provide the CEO with a depth of understanding and perspective.

Additionally, boards act as a sounding board for the CEO’s initial ideas and decisions, assisting in refining strategies and manoeuvring through complex issues and varied stakeholder interests. Their extensive experience serves as a reservoir of wisdom the CEO can tap into to enhance their own resilience and adaptability.

Moreover, boards play a crucial role in governance and compliance, ensuring the organisation adheres to legal standards and ethical practices. This should be an area the CEO can rely on the board for, so it doesn’t sap their mental energy, and they’re free to think strategically and innovatively. Effective boards also help broaden industry connections and relationships, facilitating opportunities for partnerships and growth – ensuring this isn’t left solely to the CEO. A balanced two-way relationship between the CEO and the board fosters a robust leadership dynamic, essential for the CEOs long-term resilience.

Principal in the Leadership Practice at Odgers Berndtson | Website | + posts

Andrew is a Principal in the Leadership Practice at Odgers Berndtson. He has worked at a global executive committee level, with country leadership teams in the UK, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Some of his specialisms include the actuarial, legal, finance and education sectors, as well as sales and operations teams. He is a certified ICF coach on a mission to see leadership teams thrive.