3 key personality traits of resilient leaders | Thomas.co

With organisations facing continued disruption - from socioeconomic instability, new outlooks on work and technological advancements - leaders are in the spotlight and under pressure to make sure they're proactively helping their workforce navigate these obstacles. 

Why resilience is important 

Resilience is how well a person responds to, and copes with tough situations. It’s always been a vital tool to successful leadership. But with the world facing a tidal wave of new challenges in the wake of the pandemic, resilience in leadership has become more important than ever in order to sustain high performance now, and in the future. 

3 personality traits that support resilience in leadership 

Based on Thomas’ Personality assessment, the High Potential Trait Indicator (HPTI), we explore the three personality traits that you should focus on when developing resilience in your existing and future leaders:

1. Ambiguity Acceptance

Ambiguity acceptance describes people's reaction to complexity and contradictory information: situations where outcomes, decisions and evidence are not immediately obvious or clear. Individuals with high ambiguity acceptance enjoy such situations. Individuals with low ambiguity acceptance prefer straightforward problems, situations and solutions.  
Ambiguity acceptance becomes more important at higher levels of leadership. Leaders are constantly presented with mixed information, conflicting opinions and different options. They must be able to cope and thrive when faced with them, deciding on important issues without being overwhelmed.  
High scorers will often enjoy and thrive in this sort of situation. Ambiguity acceptance can be a characteristic of the cultures of businesses and organisations which have flexible policies.  
On the other hand, people with lower scores may be fitted to lead organisations where clearly documented business processes and guidelines are essential to meet contract requirements, ensure quality, or meet technical requirements.

2. Risk Approach

Risk approach indicates how someone deals with challenging, difficult or threatening situations. People who score high consider a broad range of options, choose whichever they believe to be the best one and then act quickly. They are willing to confront challenges directly and immediately. Individuals with lower risk approach scores tend to avoid challenges or conflict until they have no other choice.  
Leaders should be able to confront problems, take calculated risks, have difficult conversations and consider a range of options. They often need to react as quickly as possible rather than putting off difficult tasks. In essence, courage is an important part of a leader’s armoury. However, if leaders react in an emotional way, without thinking, they may find they are making problems worse. This might cause stress and a feeling of being out of control.  
So, different leadership roles will require different attitudes to risk: for some leaders, risk must be addressed quickly, in other cases a more considered attitude is essential.

3. Adjustment

Adjustment scores indicate how individuals react emotionally to stress, external events and pressures. People with low adjustment scores tend to think more negative thoughts and can more easily become preoccupied with negative emotions than those higher in adjustment. They are more likely to be self-conscious about their work and how they behave around others. They can become preoccupied with others’ opinions and may worry about what others would see as trivial issues. High adjustment is often related to feeling positive about one’s own work and relationships. People with higher adjustment find it easier to shrug off stresses and strains.

Adjustment is important at higher levels of leadership. Senior leadership positions involve greater pressure and stress, and typically involve more varied and sometimes emotionally charged interactions with others. So being able to cope with pressure ensures that a leader’s performance is unaffected by external conditions. However, excessive adjustment can also be a problem. It can make leaders seem cold and make them underestimate the real difficulties individuals and organisations face. 

Whilst you cannot fundamentally change an individual’s response to stress and pressure, you can identify the kinds of scenarios most likely to have an adverse effect on leaders’ performance, and how their behaviour is likely to change under pressure.  

Using personality assessments, like the HPTI, provided by personality assessment companies, gives your leaders the awareness and understanding so they can take pre-emptive action to mitigate stressors and moderate their behaviour for optimal results.