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The leader’s greatest lesson: building resilience to overcome uncertainty

If there is one certainty in this world, that would be change. In fact, the pace of change is ever-increasing as time passes. With change comes ambiguity and complexity, and possibly stress. So when change is here to stay, I’d say leaders need to learn how to lead people through it with resilience.

No one can deny that people like certainty, they want things to be black or white, and they like definitive yes or no. But I’m sorry to say that it’s never going to happen in today’s world where internal complexities and external complications manifest themselves simultaneously.

If you choose to sit around and wait for a brighter day so that you don’t have to change your original plan, I can assure you that it will never come. You might even end up being another Nokia. You will recall how an executive of what was once the world’s biggest mobile phone company lamented, “[We] didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow we lost”. But the fact that Nokia didn’t do anything — especially after the iPhone arrived on the scene — and refused to change is enough reason why it failed at last.

Banyong Pongpanich, the chief executive officer of Kiatnakin Bank Plc, sounded a call to action during a recent event called “4 Views Drive: Organization. Leader. Sustain”, when he said: “[i]t is not a surprise anymore that we all have to go through some kind of crisis in our lives, be it big or small, critical or not; thus resiliency and crisis management are inevitable.”

Most of the time and particularly during a crisis, we have to choose one option over another, without knowing what will actually happen with the choice we’ve made, so here are some simple and applicable tips that Mr Banyong suggested during the event.

First, be calm and identify the level of crisis. Then, collect as much information and resources as possible before analysing them to see what needs to be added or looked into more. The next step is to choose your option. Keep in mind that you cannot always go for the best; rather, you might be better off developing your option from something you have in hand. The winners will be companies that make thoughtful choices by assessing alternative scenarios and considering all the implications.

Here, it is obvious that companies which nurture flexibility, awareness and resilience are more likely to survive or even prosper through a crisis better than those without these capabilities.

However, resilience isn’t a high-profile feature of leadership the way vision, communication, or strategy is. There are few books that discuss resilience; it is often overlooked. But it is rapidly becoming clear that resilience is going to be a required feature for future success.

Recent events have shown that we cannot depend on careful planning to guarantee success. Unforeseen events — floods, political unrest, developments overseas, etc — can interrupt supply chains, alter markets, and change customer expectations. Rapidly evolving technology can alter entire industries. The ability to adapt to these surprises, survive them, and flourish in the ever-changing present is a key feature of resilient leadership.

Mr Banyong also mentioned that he has been through it all, from man-made to natural crises and that is why he realised that resilience is needed at all levels of a company if it is to succeed. At high levels, strategic planning for plausible future risks and obstacles will help a company build plans that will allow it to survive and bounce back from adversity. At individual levels, leaders will be able to use their experience and skills to avoid or survive setbacks, and to focus on a better future even if the present looks difficult.

Last but not least, as the late former CEO of Intel Andy Grove once said, “Only the paranoid survive”. Those who can exploit the crisis point with resilience will surely win amid highly uncertain and ambiguous conditions.

Given these well-known leaders’ lessons on managing, I’d say now is the time to build resilience into your organisation to overcome uncertainty and bring about sustainable success.


Arinya Talerngsri is Group Managing Director at APMGroup, Thailand's leading Organisation and People Development Consultancy. She can be reached by e-mail at or

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