resilience with kindness & purpose

Article by Wendy Campbell

Adaptably Resilient Leadership: Where Kindness Matters

by Wendy Campbell
Download Article (PDF)


During November 2009, celebrations were held for the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s book — On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. To commemorate the occasion, a television series was broadcast telling the story of the book’s creation — Darwin’s Struggle: The Evolution of the Origin of Species, BBC November 2009. While watching the first episode of this series, I enjoyed once more the story of Darwin’s journey as an adaptably resilient change leader. His travels and research had shown him that all life on earth has a pattern of evolution which humans share. This thoughtful and private man overcame much personal angst — for himself and for his family — to make public his theories on evolution. In so doing he was the catalyst for profound changes in the beliefs of his community as well as our whole human world.

Considering the thinking of the times, Charles Darwin’s achievement is even more remarkable. In 1859, the Church’s stance that humans were separate and superior from all other living creatures on earth was the dominant view. However, Darwin’s study and experience clearly and persistently demonstrated that natural selection was the factor which determined whether a species flourished, or not. In extending this theory to humans, Darwin directly opposed all that the Church then stood for. Hence he was labelled a heretic by many; a severe test for this sensitive man.

As the 2009 television series progressed, Darwin’s main premise became clear: bouncing back and adapting to change is the most important factor for survival. In other words, the species which bounced back and adapted themselves to be fit to live in a changed environment — especially during periods of extreme change — were the ones who flourished. They were not necessarily the strongest. I was surprised at this. At school I had been taught that Darwin’s point was that the fittest survive, and that this translated into the strongest surviving. However the documentary explained that ‘fittest’ was not ‘strongest.’ ‘Fittest’ in Darwin’s eyes was the species that bounced back and adapted to become ‘best fit for purpose’ in the changed environment.

Since that documentary series, I have reflected on our leaders as we still struggle to rebuild our human world after the global financial crash of 2008 and its continued fallout today; and now to survive the coronavirus pandemic. It seems to me that a seismic shift is occurring in what underpins successful leadership in our changed world. For some time I could not pinpoint the core of this shift. Then I remembered Darwin’s premise — the most adaptable flourish in the changed environment.

The emerging leaders who are succeeding with prosperous strategies for flourishing futures are not the strongest, nor the most charismatic, nor those whose organisations have the best share price. Rather, these leaders are the most adaptably resilient. In other words they have the resilience to bounce back from knock downs that changes in their environment deliver, and crucially they have the ability to make the best of these changes — to adapt — for themselves and their people. As well, they encourage this adaptable resilience in their people.

This adaptable resilience is built on:
- the courage to bounce back from the shock of the changed environment, and look at their current situation with honest eyes.
- the humility to work alongside their people to co-create the best way forward for everyone concerned, including for their natural environment.
- the grounding in good, solid core values that keeps all their decision-making honest and kind.
- the focus of a purpose that includes all their people as well as their wider world.

After this flash of insight, I wondered if there were a concept or view that tied all this together …

Of course! This adaptable resilience is grounded in what sustainable social responsibility is all about. The practice of sustainable social responsibility gives leaders the framework which will enable them to bounce back and adapt during periods of change, especially in turbulent times such as we see today.

Indeed, such adaptable resilience in the face of apparent catastrophe is crucial to an organisation’s flourishing future.

Please let me explain … [read my whole article in the downloaded pdf. See the link above.]