Team Resilience in Times of Stress – the Role of the Transformational Leader

We are gearing up for an economic recession. Recessions are a reality of economic cycles and current and leading economic indicators point to what we believe to be a slowdown in global growth. Here’s the kicker: how do you plan for a weak economy when you are unsure of the time frame or significance? Uncertainty about the future is a big destabilizer for team and organization. We believe that building the skills to manage the organization during adverse situations in the early stages of change may mean the difference between a successful transition and organizational conflict. The manager/director/employer who understands the variables that influence team-level and individual-level resilience is positive force during transition.

The important message is that leader behavior during times of transition has a significant influence on team members’ resilience (Sommer, Howell, and Hadley, 2015). As it turns out, transformational leadership which inspires and supports staff, is associated with greater levels of positive effect and lower negative affect. No surprise there. More important, team resilience is enhanced by transformational, positive leadership. However, here lies the problem. Not all leaders have the personality traits to function as a transformational leader. Transformational leaders tend to be self-confident, open to new ideas, charismatic, agreeable, and positive – in other words, right-brained (Judge and Bono, 2000).

Employee resilience is a precious commodity in times of organizational stress. Employee resilience, or the ability of the team to carry on during times of stress – and perhaps rise to the next level – is dependent upon leadership positive affect. Transformational leadership drives positive affect. It is the ability to support employee coping mechanisms when faced with stress. Perhaps more important is the ability of transformational leadership to build motivation and persistence (p.176). Not all leaders are transformational. Some fill the important role of transactional leaders who guide us with regulation and structure. But even leaders who tend to be black and white in direction can foster team resilience with transformational activities.

Our message is clear. All leadership styles have the ability to guide the organization through challenging times, simply by focusing on kindness, compassion, and grace. These are difficult qualities to capture. For our purposes, we see the process best described by Thomas and Rowland (2014) as simply doing good and demonstrating kindness to others (p. 99). Change is inevitable. We suggest leadership incorporate these five key actions steps in managing change:

(1) Always look for landmines. Reduce the potential for structural change surprises by actively monitoring trends and leading indicators.

(2) Communicate plans and ideas to your team truthfully and consistently.

(3) Take the temperature of the organization by asking staff for candid input – and be genuine.

(4) Finally, in the words of composer, Harry M. Woods, “try a little tenderness”. When operations are challenged, support your team – and they will support you.


Judge, T., & Bono, J. (2000). Five-factor model of personality and transformational leadership. Journal of Applied Psychology85(5), 751–765. doi: 10.1037//0021-9010.85.5.751

Kuntz, J., Näswall, K., & Malinen, S. (2016). Resilient Employees in Resilient Organizations: Flourishing Beyond Adversity. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 9(2), 456-462. doi:10.1017/iop.2016.39

Sommer, S. A., Howell, J. M., & Hadley, C. N. (2015). Keeping Positive and Building Strength. Group & Organization Management41(2), 172–202. doi: 10.1177/1059601115578027

Thomas, M., & Rowland, C. (2013). Leadership, Pragmatism and Grace: A Review. Journal of Business Ethics123(1), 99–111. doi: 10.1007/s10551-013-1802-3

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