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Building Leaders’ Brain Resilience To Be Agile In New Normal

Updated: Aug 4, 2022

The rapid global spread of COVID-19 is with no doubt has changed the way we live and lead. It disrupted millions of humans’ lives and affecting the global economy. In dealing with this situation, organization is at the position to strive in this challenging condition and ensure the resiliency of their leaders. They are unlikely to go back to the old ways of doing things if they want to stay ahead of the competition. As countries continues to ease lockdown and adapt to new normal, resilience and agility are increasingly needed in every leader in order to bring organizations to bounce back and rise.

From brain perspective, resilience and agility share similar characteristics. Both are brain abilities that requires our capability to learn from experience and adapt to external environment. Both are also can be built over time through coaching, training, and experience – thanks to the neuroplasticity capacity of the brain that enables our brains to change. However, resilience and agility are distinctive abilities but still closely correlated one another.

Agility refers to how quickly a person could respond and adapt to the rapid and constant changes. A leader with an agile mindset is considered to be able to adapt flexibly by viewing problems from various perspectives, without being trapped in a polarized view. Agile leadership is also about being the change by fostering innovation, sharing, and collaboration in alignment with meaning and purpose1.

Resilience, on the other hand, is humans’ ability to endure the adversity and bounce back from the hardship. It depends on how well our brains adapt to difficulties. Neuroscience studies found that the level of resilience is determined by the connectivity between prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the amygdala in the brain2. The more brain signals going back and forth between the PFC and the amygdala, the better we are in managing negative emotions and adapting to bad experience.

While agility requires the speed of thought, accountability, and complex thinking abilities, both resilience and agility involve mental strength and cognitive flexibility in adapting to change. It means that brain’s resilience underlies the agility of a leader. When you are resilient enough, your brain will be able to function better to respond market changes quickly and handle all uncertainties.

Thus, what does it take to build sufficient resilience level for leaders across managerial levels within organization to be agile in adapting to new normal?

1. Developing leaders’ personal resilience with holistic approach

Personal resilience is a multidimensional construct that is measured by determination, endurance, adaptability, and recuperability3. To build such multidimensional abilities, your organization need to facilitate a multidimensional leadership development approach. Vibrant Resilience program from Vanaya enable leaders and talents to build physical, socio-emotional, cognitive, and spiritual resilience by facilitating leaders to rewire their own brain networks in a way that strengthens their personal resilience.

2. Build a learning organization to foster leadership resilience

One of the key organizational resilience characteristics is willingness and ability to learn from mistakes4. Organization can create a resilience support system by developing a learning culture through continuous improvement and reward system – not only to those who prevail, but also for those who bounce back higher. Other critical abilities of organizational resilience are the ability to deal with adverse events timely and anticipate the future5. Those two abilities are linked to the data-driven capability to effectively monitor the signals from operational environment and forecast future events based on historic data. Data-driven leaders are then those who will be able to translate data into actionable insights to create anticipative decisions and actions.

3. Bring mindfulness as a daily leadership practice at work

Mindful working involves the ability to focus and being aware of moment to moment experience. Recent neuroscience studies found that mindfulness helps leaders to deal better with stress and anxiety, and allows them to be more effective in decision-making, managing emotion, and enhancing creativity6. Inspired by the value of bringing mindfulness at work, many organizations – from Google to SAP – have started to equip their talents and leaders with mindfulness training and encouraging their leaders to start the day with mindfulness practice.




  2. Herringa, R.J. al. (2016). Enhanced Prefrontal-Amygdala Connectivity Following Childhood Adversity as a Protective Mechanism Against Internalizing in Adolescence, Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, 7 (1), 326-334.

  3. Taormina, R.J. (2015). Adult Personal Resilience: A New Theory, New Measure, and Practical Implications, Psychological Thought, 8 (1), 35–46.

  4. Annarelli, A., Battistella, C., and Nonino, F. (2020). A Framework to Evaluate the Effects of Organizational Resilience on Service Quality, Sustainability, 12 (958), 1-15.

  5. Patriarca, R., (in press). An Analytic Framework to Assess Organizational Resilience, Safety and Health at Work.

  6. Huang, F.Y., (2019). Mindfulness Improves Emotion Regulation and Executive Control on Bereaved Individuals: An fMRI Study, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12 (541), 1-10.

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