Evolving Mind ShapesAs CEO, I often inspired employees to be comfortable continually shape-shifting. Of course, my employees thought I was a Twilight fan. Honestly, I have never watched the series, but I am a big fan of fluid change in the business environment. I wanted the team to become comfortable with the one thing in our business that was constant: change.

Change, changeover, conversion, metamorphosis, mutation, shift, transfiguration, transformation, translation, transmutation, transubstantiation ––being comfortable in an ever-changing skin is important to all companies today. Shape-shifting is now a staple to organizational success because it builds organizational resilience. Having resilience is important for leaders, for businesses, and for individuals, at all levels in organization, that wish to flourish in today’s fast-paced world.

Rapid, disruptive change is the new normal for most thriving organizations. When I wrote Marketing in the Participation Age in 2012, I emphasized the importance for organizations to continually adapt, as opposed to settling into a consistent, familiar routine. I recommended that leaders become “Nurturists” and view their company the way they would a garden. A garden needs constant tending and adaptation. Gardening teaches leaders to be resilient themselves, and instill a sense of flexibility and tenacity within each individual in the entire organization.

Becoming a resilient an organization is easier said than done. The reality is that most companies are accustomed to a more stayed approach to operating their businesses. This is the way businesses have operated for decades, and it worked in the old economic model. Economists teach us that businesses grow to the point where returns to scale diminish. Consistency and repetition are important during this growth in order to achieve scale. The industrial machine age was born on this concept. Repeatable, linear models drove efficiency and effectiveness. The economic reasoning is that the benefits of scale are eventually overwhelmed by the disadvantages of size. Obviously, traditional economic models were also built for a time when communication and transportation were scarce and barriers to growth.

The conventional approach isn’t effective in a world where products and services can be accessed and delivered instantaneously and virtually like they are today in the Participation Age. Many believe this new environment is contributing to the continuous rapid cycles resulting in impulsive growth. These cycles are expected to continue to accelerate, diffuse and disappear at an ever equally dizzying pace.

Thriving organizations are learning to adapt continually in a response to these rapid cycles by adopting a more biological and nonlinear approach to managing their organization. One such approach is utilizing CAS or Complex Adaptive Systems. CAS are a more biological approach as opposed to the mechanistic view of business functions. Adaptive system sciences are also nonlinear and while nonlinear. Because most organizations are used to the more mechanistic approach, they may sometimes feel uncomfortable. But they do allow for quicker response and more diverse choices than do traditional linear methods.

For years, leaders have focused on speed and agility alone. But they are no longer enough. Globalization, technology and social-political changes, as well as fast-moving cycles are prompting leaders to prepare in advance for shape-shifting their organization to respond to the complex business challenges. In order for leaders to adopt a more adaptive approach to leadership they need to be agile and resilient as individuals. Resilient leaders are adaptive, emotionally intelligent people able to absorb complex change and help others move forward to achieve success.

Women are innately relationship-focused. Therefore, as leaders, they are more likely to be in touch with their followers’ emotions, needs and desires and, therefore are more in tune with the broader organization. As a consequence, they are better able to respond proactively. This builds organizational resilience from the bottom up.

In addition to staying closely in touch with followers, women leaders are also stress resilient. Despite the impacts of stress, women do not lose their desire to connect with others. Studies that indicate that this is because during stressful situations women have more emotional intelligence than men. A study published in a 2014 issue of Psychoneuroendocrinology found that stressed men become more self-centered and less able to distinguish their own emotions and intentions from those of other people.

For women, the exact opposite was true. The researchers were surprised by this outcome. The initial hypothesis was that stress would cause all individuals to become more egocentric because taking a self-centered perspective reduces the emotional/cognitive load overall. The hypothesis proved to be true, but only for men. Stress worsened the performance of men. Why this occurs is not clear, although experts suspect the oxytocin might have a contributing factor. Oxytocin is a hormone connected with social behaviors and a previous study had found that during stressful conditions women had higher levels of oxytocin. [1]

Transformational leaders drive organizational resilience[2], because they create environments where individuals feel supported, valued and appreciated.

Finally, collaboration, which is especially important as organizations become more cross-functional and information is held at every level, also can drive organizational resilience. Interestingly, a study published in Harvard Business review found that a mere, three to five percent of employees drive the majority of collaborative work across organizations, and the lion’s share of that collaborative work tends to fall on women.[3] This is because women are more focused on relationships and therefore more likely to assist others. With their skills in collaboration, empathy and focus on relationships, women can bring higher job satisfaction to individuals and teams.

The need for adept shape-shifters in today’s fast-pace environment is only going to increase. Leaders can build resilience into their organization three ways:

  1. First, examine the diversity represented in the senior leadership team. Having women leaders is a great way to bring natural resilience because women are more likely to be in tune with followers at all levels of the organization.
  2. Incorporate the transformational leadership style. An excellent way to get transformational leadership is to hire women leaders. Transformational leaders are more in touch with their followers and this is critical to build organizational adaptability.
  3. Recognize the importance of collaboration in today’s fast-paced environment with matrix organizations. Collaborators at all levels of the organization can build resilience.

Thriving organizations will be adept shape-shifters and this means successful leaders will also be resilient ones.


[1] L.Tomova, B. von Dawans, M. Heinrichs, G. Silani, C. Lamm, “Is stress affecting our ability to tune into others? Evidence for gender differences in the effects of stress on self-other distinction.” Psychoneuroendrocrinology, Vol. 43, May 2014, pp. 95-104.

[2] Jesus N. Valero , Kyujin Jung , Simon A. Andrew , (2015) “Does transformational leadership build resilient public and nonprofit organizations?”, Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 24 Issue: 1, pp.4 – 20

[3] Cross, Rob, Rebele, Reb, and Grant, Adam, Collaborative Overload, Harvard Business Review, January/February, 2016.