Resilience in leadership

June 15, 2017

The art of bouncing back

Charles Darwin once said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Building resilience might be the most important thing you do for your long term success as a leader. Your experience and ultimate success is dictated by the attitude you bring to the experience, how you manage your thoughts and emotions, and how you manage the relationships in your surroundings. It is your level of resilience as a leader that will determine your success or failure.

Picture of a newly growing plant, starting to bloom
Photo Credit: Simon Launay, Unsplash

What exactly is actually resilience? It is the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well, and to keep going in the face of adversity. The adaptability to change is identified as one of the top skills needed for effective leadership. A leader needs the ability to go through tough times, resolve issues and give confidence to those they lead in turbulent times, which is now more apparent than ever. It is a leaders’ role to support individuals to confidently pursue new ideas and alternative solutions when change happens. It is a leaders’ job to help build a thriving and high performing business; circumstances don't matter.

Let me try to clarify how it is when resilience is not present. Try to remember a situation when you felt challenged. This may have been a situation where:

  • Your boundaries were unclear
  • You were unable to say no
  • Your fears held you back from leading the way you are capable of
  • You set unrealistic expectations of yourself and your time
  • You believed you could do everything by yourself and didn’t ask for help

All of the above are situations that may lead to a breakdown in resiliency.

As a leader, you can improve on resilience by focusing on the following:

  1. Self-awareness: Knowing yourself really well is one of the keys of effective leadership and the foundation of building resilience. Continuously evaluate your strengths and develop your character through the years. Try to identify the main skills and qualities that usually help you get through tough or challenging times. Manage your energy properly and avoid things that drain it. You need to tap into your optimal performance conditions.
  2. Face the reality: Do a reality check, try to identify what the real situation is. In really adverse situations, rose-colored thinking would be a disaster. But it is still up to you to keep a positive outlook on adversity. As a leader you should have the ability to do and achieve things with whatever is at hand at the moment.
  3. Avoid thinking traps and look for different perspectives: Does your inner narrative help you or is it hindering you? If it’s the latter, make an effort to shift it into a positive one and start looking at the event as an isolated one.
  4. Build meaningful relationships: By building and nurturing relationships in the workplace, you create a safe place for failure, a space for learning as an organisation. So don’t look at failures as something negative, look for the good things and show that it is an opportunity to learn and improve, an opportunity to change patterns and behaviours. By doing this you will also build the ability to work as a team and to improve individual and overall performance.
  5. Resilient working environment: Show your team members and employees, that you trust them and their capabilities. Delegate. This will help improving your resiliency and the resiliency of your team. 

Last but not least, resilience is not only important for leaders, but for all employees and the organization itself. Does your organization help you become more resilient as a leader? Because resilience is the quality that will help individuals weather the storm, it is an important part of a company’s employee training program. Feeling more grounded, clear and calm will help your company be most responsive to change. Charles Darwin would have definitely seen this human quality as an important asset of great leadership.


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