Photo: Dr. Mark C. Anarumo on the Norwich campus

Resiliency and Leadership

As our nation and the world continue to struggle through several crises, resiliency has been once again recognized as the critical attribute of a leader and the organization the leader is charged to guide. The pace of change has been accelerating significantly over the past several decades. From here, it will only be growing in speed and complexity. Successful organizations will be those which can adapt most quickly; since an organization adopts the personality of its leader, it stands to reason that leaders today must internalize and master resiliency as a primary core competency.

The term resiliency is not new. We have long recognized it in the leaders we most admire through different names—guts, fortitude, courage, and, of course, grit. Norwich University and our graduates are known for this grit, our scrappiness, our ability to overcome in the face of adversity. This one quality above all others is how we outperform other institutions in placing our students and graduates in critical positions across all sectors and every area of service, and how those students and graduates then earn recognition as top performers and prized leaders.

This grit, this resiliency, is developed at a personal level. Once mastered, it is exported to the larger organization in which one leads. It is, however, important to recognize that this leader¬ship role is not dependent on formal position; it is across all domains and directions. Most leaders influence sub¬ordinates by nature of their position of authority, good or bad. Great leaders also lead up, and laterally. We know these leaders as influencers, those who lead in all directions. Those leaders are truly rare, so much so that we recognize them as transformational. They are highly prized, and here at Norwich, we need to start making many, many more of them.

Like most people, I remember each leader in my past, across 30 years of military service, dozens of years in higher education, and brief stints in other sectors. Of course, I remember the worst leaders and promised myself I would never emulate their poor qualities. But the special ones, the ones who lived qualities of resiliency and grit and instilled those qualities in their organizations and subordinates, those are the ones I wanted to be one day.

Of course, there are challenges specific to our current times with which the great leaders of our past did not have to contend. Toxic social media, lapses of ethics in news reporting bordering on misinformation, political polarization, and the lower frequency of building resiliency in children before they attain college age are all significant challenges for a school like Norwich. But we are up to the task.

I have been in uniform since I was 16 years old, first as an enlisted member of the Army and later as an officer in the Air Force. The military through various programs funded a bachelor’s, master’s, PhD, and post-doctoral fellowship. I owe everything good in my life to two entities: the military and higher education. Every day, in progressively larger scope of responsibility, I have tried to lead as if I am paying back those two professions by imparting lessons to the military members, and now the students and employees, in my charge. Please hear my sincerity when I say this is deeply personal to me.

From the foxholes, tanks, Humvees, deserts, mud huts, old Soviet bunkers, and more aircraft than I can count, my experiences can be distilled down to the following six observations on the journey of becoming a resilient leader:

1. Leadership is a choice. It is not a title or position or some kind of crown. Leaders decide that they must dedicate their lives to others, selflessly, and without limitation. Elevating others is a hallmark of a leader. Instilling resiliency in others, and the entire organization, is the most valuable thing a leader can do. And it must be done through example.

2. Every struggle presents tremendous opportunity. The gift of adversity must be leveraged to strengthen leadership abilities. It is the ultimate opportunity to show integrity and to display grit. Resiliency is contagious.

3. Leaders lead…through the good times and bad. Good leaders take care of their people and build agility and resilient habits when the situation af¬fords time to do so. When the inevitable challenge plants itself firmly in the path or the team’s trajectory, the team should be ready, and the leader better be in front.

4. When the crisis abates, the leader gives credit and takes blame. As a leader in crisis, own every failure. Use feedback and assessment to improve not go well. The things that did go well, which will be numerous if you build resiliency, should be credited to others. Doing so will build an incredible foundation in your team from which they can reach heights of excellence they never thought possible.

5. Your actions during a crisis serve as a model for your followers…and critics. Be calm but energetic. Compassionate but demanding. Critique in private but praise in public. Never forget the organization will assume your personality. Lead the team you want to be part of and build leaders you will want to work for one day.

6. Conduct a brutal self-assessment to learn from failures. It is OK to enjoy the success but embrace the journey. There is always room for improvement. Own the mistakes and write them down for later reflection. There are only three unforgivable mistakes—the dishonorable, the cowardly, and the repeat. Integrity takes care of honor, resiliency enables bravery, and humility ensures growth. Our world has never been more complex. The rate of change and complexity is only going to accelerate. For over 200 years, Norwich University has been known for embracing and building grit. We are about to launch into an elevated phase of this core institutional quality. I look forward to taking the journey together.

Norwich Together, Norwich Forever!

Dr. Mark C. Anarumo,
Colonel, USAF (Ret)

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