This content was originally published on The Resilience Shift website. The Resilience Shift, a 5-year programme supported by Lloyd’s Register Foundation and hosted by Arup, transitioned at the end of 2021 to become Resilience Rising. You can read more about The Resilience Shift’s journey and the transition to Resilience Rising here.

What makes a good leader? Leaders are being asked to make difficult decisions with the challenges of the coronavirus outbreak. But how can they be sure they are making the right decision and remain resilient when faced with such challenges? And how can leaders form these critical decision-making skills before a crisis or disaster happens?

A new initiative by The Resilience Shift, in partnership with the Global Resilient Cities Network, is shining the light on resilient leadership as part of its work to make resilience tangible and relevant.

The first two summaries of detailed insights distilled from weekly interviews with senior leaders, and the first of a podcast series, with reflections on these insights, are now available from a new Resilient Leadership project, part of a series of research ventures by The Resilience Shift entitled “˜Learning from Crisis’.

The first explored decision-making at the time of Cape Town’s Day Zero crisis through filmed reflections, distilled into structured learning modules. Another brought together those dealing with the post-earthquake reconstruction of Christchurch and captured their critical review.

Peter Willis

Now The Resilience Shift is working again with Peter Willis of Conversations that Count and co-leader of the Cape Town Drought Response Learning Initiative. An experienced listener, and expert in teasing out insights from structured discussion, Peter is personally interviewing 12 globally diverse senior leaders every week for 16 weeks to capture their reflections on the challenges they are facing day to day.

Seven of the participants are in large, globally significant corporations, five are the Chief Resilience Officers of a major city in Europe, Africa, India, Brazil and the United States of America.

On this 16-week journey, they have been invited to reflect on their daily challenges, the dilemmas they are resolving and lessons they may have to share. The Resilience Shift will be distilling their insights and sharing them back to the 12 leaders as they go, with all participants intent on sifting out the leadership wisdom that will serve cities, their companies and their citizens in the uncertain time ahead.

A resilient city is one that has options for coping and recovering when things go wrong. That resilience exists in two forms: the way infrastructure is designed and run – for example with dual use when crisis demands it – and the way leaders respond.

Peter says, “Some leaders are naturally gifted in crisis situations, but most leaders can become good at this. The difference they can make to the outcomes in their city or organisation is hard to understate. This project invites twelve experienced leaders to reflect regularly on how they are responding, and helping their people to respond, to a meta-crisis with no modern precedent and no certain end.”

To ensure open and honest conversation, no material from the interviews will be shared outside the close network of peer interviewees, and interviewees will remain anonymous.

The project wants to increase global understanding of successful crisis management and leadership in the circumstances of a meta-crisis, specifically within large global corporations and large cities. Also to increase understanding of the implications of such meta-crises for longer term urban and corporate resilience. With some 80 hours of interviews planned, this will become a valuable archive.

As this project generates and captures insights, it will be pulling together the essential learning from these interviews and making it available to a wider audience in various ways, respecting interviewee confidentiality.

A weekly distillation of insights will be published in blog format while Seth Schultz, Executive Director, The Resilience Shift, will interview Peter Willis on the emerging themes and insights from the weekly interviews in a regular podcast.

We are asking audiences for this work to share their own thoughts and register for project updates.

At the end of the project, reflections and conclusions from the overall experience will be further captured, and this experience aims to provide very high-quality intimate insights into what constitutes good leadership in such exceptional circumstances, and what it means to shoulder the burden of large responsibilities in such times.

Seth Schultz said, “We are delighted that those participating in this initiative are contributing to the future resilience and capability of senior decision-makers around the world through their contribution of real-time reflections.”

Interviewer profile

Peter Willis pioneered the reflective learning process of the innovative Cape Town Drought Response Learning Initiative, in which 39 key people were interviewed in depth and on film. He has been working with the Resilience Shift since 2018, synthesising and disseminating this valuable learning resource to a global audience. He has been advising senior executives on risk and sustainability strategy since the late 1990’s and for 12 years was Africa Director of the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainable Leadership. He studied history at Oxford University and lives in Cape Town.


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