Virtuousness vs. Resilience – Team lessons from the Tour of Mont Blanc


A virtuous organisation is one that “espouses and nourishes an environment of moral goodness, making a positive impact on the human experience of its members and customers, and ensures that this positive impact extends to the greater community.”

— Cameron, Bright and Caza, 2004

Virtuousness in organisations is often associated with individuals and teams being resilient – they are able to bounce back from setbacks in such a way it allows them to adapt and grow.

Last month my most important “team” – a.k.a. my family – took on the Tour of Mont Blanc (168 kilometres with 10,000 meter in height difference over 11 days). In the first days the youngest in our team (10 years old) had a tough time with the fact that after each top of a mountain there was another – and often bigger – one waiting. On this tour this could go on for 8 hours a day. We started to refer to these as the “mental blows”. Initially these mental blows could bring our youngest – and with him sometimes the entire team – in a tailspin of negativity: One minute, a strong, positive team member singing funny marching songs and the next minute (after the mental blow), a weak, negative team member with loads of self-pity. Needless to say he and the team needed to learn to bounce back from these setbacks. It took us 4 days of hard work and lots of coaching back-and-forth to get to this place. 

A concept studied in this regard is the so-called emotional carrying capacity (ECC): Partners express their emotions (positive and negative) and do so constructively. This ECC is positively related to both individual and team resilience. 

However, does a virtuous organisation produce resilient individuals (as proposed in several publications in psychology) or do resilient individuals and teams produce a virtuous organisation?

As you might have guessed, the answer is: both. However, it turns out that resilience and virtuousness need this ECC (emotional carrying capacity) in order to develop. During the first days of the Tour of the Mont Blanc the key issue was not so much the “mental blows” of mountain top after mountain top. It was finding a way to address what it was that was going on. It was about finding a language to talk about “it”. It was only after “it” could be expressed as “the mental blow of yet another mountain top needing to be conquered” that we became more and more resilient as a team and I dare say became a more virtuous organisation (family).  

In the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, Stephens et al. demonstrate that ECC and trust within a (top management) team are positively related to resilience. Moreover, ECC is also positively related to trust.

I realise this ECC and “expressing emotions constructively” might be a bit on the soft side for us hard-nose managers. There is, however, ample evidence it is crucial for becoming a virtuous organisation. 


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