Thought Leadership

Comprehensive Collective Resilience Takes Center Stage

Dr Etienne van der Walt speaks about the importance of systemic resilience, as global change has exceeded our individual adaptive capacities.

Life is dynamic. We are complex adaptive organisms and we continuously adapt in the face of change. There is no other way. 

Individuals, teams, and organizations are living organisms and must be able to adapt, to make new plans, to learn, and to grow. This, of course, is the essence of resilience and is an innate neurobiological capacity of a living entity, including living systems. 

‘Adapt or die’ has never been so fresh, so true. Another pithy statement that I revived when thinking of resilience is: ‘How much can you take before you break?’. ‘Breaking’ for humans manifests in many ways, but in the workplace, arguably no way is more important than burnout as a result of chronic stress. 

I recently had a conversation with the Head of People Analytics of a large bank in South Africa, who told me that 70% of the senior leaders at the bank suffer from burnout (according to their 2022 survey). Global burnout has arguably been a pandemic before COVID-19, which is now followed closely by the Mental Pandemic affecting everyone. EVERYONE. Add to these the new territory of a hybrid workplace and conflict crises across the world; it is no wonder burnout is just rife. 

Resilience determines ‘how much you can take’ and in itself drives our adaptiveness. I would argue that individual resilience is not adequate anymore (it probably never was); the speed and global impact of change have already exceeded our individual adaptive capacities. We need systemic resilience, and closer to home: organizational resilience. Organizational resilience should form the cornerstone, the basis, of every organizational wellness/well-being program, of leadership development programs, and of talent management initiatives.

I would even make a systems-based statement that organizations low on resilience will, as a result, reduce the resilience of the individuals that belong to those organizations. We know that this happens in teams through a process called allostasis. So, when thinking “resilience” as business leaders, let’s think of it as a systemic and foundational necessity for organizational development.

14 April, 2022.

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