Foster resilient leadership in the era of uncertainty and the wave of AI

The 2023 Smart Retail Development Forum was held recently. Professor Bao Jiming from Fudan University School of Management delivered a keynote speech on the development of leadership resilience, the important role of the growth mindset in corporate development, and seizing the opportunities of the times to advocate “Business For Good”.

Resilient leaders have the ability to cope with disruptive changes and bounce back from setbacks. They sustain their energy level under pressure and continue pursuing their goals. So resilient leadership focuses on two essential qualities of the leader: the capacity to withstand stress and recover from setbacks; as well as the ability to take the lead in addressing challenges, and to motivate and guide the team to keep moving forward. As a leader, his or her core role is to generate and convey positive energy to the entire team.

In her book The Leader’s Guide to Resilience, British scholar Audrey Tang identified the pillars of resilience as mental health, physical health, social health, spiritual health; while for Dr. Arielle Schwartz, the six pillars of resilience are growth mindset, emotional intelligence, community connections, self-expression, embodiment, choice and control.

A growth mindset is very essential to the leader’s resilience. Fixed mindset and growth mindset are two main mindsets we can navigate life with. People holding a growth mindset believe that intelligence can be developed and abilities can strengthened. In addition to embracing change, trial and error, and rapid iteration, leaders with a growth mindset also believe in longtermism.

Building resilient leadership involves continuous, systemic, intentional changes in cognition and behavior. Although we are all under the influence uncontrollable factors such as genes, growth experience, physical conditions, which naturally result in differences in our levels of resilience. However, from the perspective of the growth mindset, the improvement of psychological resilience is a lifelong process. With the guidance of a scientific framework, we can continuously work on their mental maturity, enhance our resilience, even inspire and influence those around us.

“Strategic giving up” at critical moments is also a key aspect of the growth mindset. Effective leaders maintain mental clarity by prioritising what is truly essential, willingly acknowledging the necessity of relinquishing less critical aspects. NVIDIA's founder, Jensen Huang, is a practical example of the “growth mindset.” In 2010, he decided to withdraw NVIDIA from the mobile phone market it has conquered, and venture into the then-unknown market of autonomous driving and robotics, which eventually led to new success for the company as a pioneer in a brand new industry.

In Resilience: The Law of Advancement in Uncertain Times, the authors Zhang Xiaomeng and Cao Lida proposed a model that they call “resilience turbine”. The core parts of this “turbine” are its three “blades”: awareness, meaning, and connection, referring respectively to one’s relationship with the self, with the world and with other people.

Based on numerous real-world examples and theories, Professor Bao suggests that resilient leadership can be cultivated from three aspects. First, leaders should think out of the box when facing bottlenecks. Second, setting clear goals and continually improving oneself is crucial. Lastly, enhancing learning ability in the era of uncertainty and keeping pace with the times are essential.

On this final point, Professor Bao reminds us, to truly benefit from the era of artificial intelligence, business leaders can’t  afford to overlook the synergies between the AI technologies and smart retail. He urges leaders to closely monitor changes across three key dimensions: changes in the market competition model, in consumer groups, as well as in all factors affecting purchase decisions.

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