Twenty-one years into the new Millennium, or commonly referred to as the 21st Century, things are becoming complex. Pandemics, pestilences, droughts, floods, earthquakes, wars – the list is endless. In particular, Covid-19 has changed life as we knew it. Which makes some wonder whether this is now the “end of times”? In management and leadership literature, the concept of organisational resilience is frequently put forward as vital in managing difficult moments. Linked to the concept of organisational resilience is managerial patience. In human existence, both good and bad, evil and holy continuously exist side-by-side. They are both from the same coin. Yet, humanity tends to forget grace and fortune in times of abundance and prosperity, and only remembers them in periods of adversity and paucity. In the same way, the power of organisational resilience and managerial patience tends to resurface, and their power can be clearly seen, especially in difficult moments like the present times. Given this context, it might be appropriate now to reflect, evoke and propagate the concepts of organisational resilience and managerial patience.
Defining resilience and patience
Simplified, organisational resilience refers to the human ability to persevere despite setbacks and changing external realities and conditions. The ability to persevere often metamorphoses into previously unknown hidden strengths, creativity and toughness to emerge from devastating circumstances without losing hope. On the other hand, managerial patience refers to a greater understanding and awareness of one’s unique operating circumstances and context, especially the major adverse conditions and obstacles in the environment. In the contextual history of Namibia, the polarising and brutal colonial history was the major adverse condition and obstacle. However, Namibia has, somewhat, demonstrated the ability to transform historical and other external contextual challenges into advantages, in other words has demonstrated the resilience to persevere despite challenging conditions arising from the past history. Globally, thus including Namibia, the current major adverse condition is Covid-19.
Resilience and patience in context
Covid-19 is not the first pandemic to affect humanity. There were plagues and pandemics before and so there will be in future. All over the world, wars and disturbances continue unabated to this day. Just the other day, there was a coup in Guinea Conakry. Just like our ancestors overcame pandemics, wars and disturbances, so shall, and must, the current generation also overcome contemporary challenges. But how will they overcome these? How will they turn adversity and hardships into prosperity?
It is possible to turn adversity and challenges into new opportunities and solutions. It happens all the time. For instance, a person born with a speech impairment can convert such a perceived disadvantage into an advantage by becoming, say, a successful author. This can happen by, first, a conscious realisation of the disadvantage. Secondly, by taking tangible actions, for instance to spend more time reading and writing forced by the limitation of speech impairment. These types of situations are what is commonly referred to as the Theory of Desirable Difficulty – a perceived limitation turned from disappointment into fulfilment. In other words, the skill of finding something valuable in an otherwise difficult condition or situation. To illustrate further, compelled by insecurity and humiliation under Apartheid, and the experiences of such an evil system, paradoxically, enabled some to be perfect at something through learning a skill to compensate for the brutality that Apartheid was. Similarly, the shame of lack of education suffered by a child, can afford such a child an opportunity to concentrate on something noble, primarily motivated by the inner desire and longing to become famous just like those who are highly educated. In the end, what was initially seen as a limitation eventually becomes an advantage.
Covid-19 is currently seen as a disaster but might, on the other hand, be a strength. As Malcolm Gladwell (2013) illustrated in David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants, what often are seen as disadvantages are actually strengths and what frequently are seen as advantages are actually limitations. This is what is generally known as the Theory of the Advantages of the Disadvantages and the Disadvantages of the Advantages. It refers to a situation where an ability is developed to deal with a shortcoming in an enriched manner, surpassing that which could not have been the case without such a perceived handicap or disadvantage. In other words, disadvantage helps one to develop skills that otherwise would customarily have lain dormant. It helps one to do things that never could have been considered. Of course, applying the Theory of the Advantages of the Disadvantages and the Disadvantages of the Advantages and Theory of Desirable Difficulty is not simplistic in real life but can have enormous benefits if pursued. Thus, the quest should continue to find opportunities in the current perceived adversities and challenges. This, amongst others, implies having creative courage and displaying faith that the current difficulties will soon be over and that a brighter future is just around the corner.
To effectively develop resilience is to develop patience. Patience has many related terms, often interchangeably used with meekness, mildness, temperance, forbearing, forgiving, tolerant, lenient, merciful and long-suffering. The many synonyms of patience clearly demonstrate its power. Patience is a virtue formed through discipline and education not to expect things in a flash, but through waiting, believing and hoping that “something will give in”. To be human implies frequently falling but standing up, dusting oneself and continue walking. What patience allows is time for extended and deeper reflections, introspection through reflective practice. In its turn, reflective practice allows discernment to unmask things as they are, which enables new solutions to emerge. Even in the current Covid-19 crisis, the Creator has not left humankind to their own devices but has already trusted humanity to find solutions to the current volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. Yes, Covid-19 has devastated humanity but humankind should learn to keep on walking and not looking back.