Leaders Build Resilience © Photographerlondon | Dreamstime.com

Leaders Build Resilience
© Photographerlondon | Dreamstime.com

It always surprises me when small problems seem to stop me in my tracks – when my response to a minor issue is more worry, stress, anxiety, or drop in enthusiasm and motivation than it really deserves. It might be a client complaint, the realization that a team member is not following through on something, or an unexpected cost to the business. Even today I sometimes need distance from the situation to be able to look back and see that my response was not what it should have been. Often my responses might be completely internal, manifesting in a sense of deflation or a sudden negative change in my emotions which lasts longer than it should. At the worst it might manifest itself in an outward knee-jerk statement of frustration.  Fourth Question Leaders are always seeking to examine the motivation behind their responses, behaviours, decisions and choices.

I have learned these are symptoms pointing to low resilience.

Resilience is the capacity of an object to return to its original shape after it has been pushed out of shape. When we use this term in reference to people we are talking about their capacity to get back to normal after a negative experience – thus the expression to “bounce back.” When someone’s resilience is strong they will recover more quickly from a negative experience than when it is low. Some people seem to have a natural resilience and they cope well with adversity. Others do not bounce back as easily from the knocks they experience. However, resilience is not a genetically passed on attribute. It can be deliberately nurtured and developed. Leaders who are committed to helping their team members and their organisation, being the best they can be pay attention to resilience.

Pay attention to resilience.

If we think of resilience as a bank account (an oversimplification) we can talk about negative experiences causing withdrawals from the resilience bank. When the account gets low it is harder to recover. What can happen is that experiences we would usually shake off, perhaps not even notice, or have a laugh at, become bigger and more negative. Deposits into the resilience bank are harder to make than withdrawals. While negative experiences can cause withdrawals it takes more than just positive experiences to make a deposit.

The dilemma for Fourth Question Leaders is that when resilience is low it requires significantly more effort to maintain a focus on the best interests of others. Learning to recognise when your resilience is ebbing and developing a self awareness of how your resilience can be rebuilt are important skills for Fourth Question Leaders. I know that tiredness, being unwell, and being engaged in problems which are using a lot of emotional and mental energy are times when my resilience is at risk of getting low.

Resilience can be developed. One of the biggest impacts a leader can have is to model coping with difficulty to their team. How your team members observe you respond to adversity will be a big determinant in how they deal with it. If you maintain a positive outlook during difficult times they will learn that it is possible to do so. That’s why I am always so hard on myself when, after the event, I realise that I have knee-jerked at something that has happened. It is not the leadership example I want to be giving.

Being transparent with your team, especially your senior executive team members, is also important. It has been my experience that letting my executive team know if I am more tired than normal, unwell, or feeling drained or stressed, helps them to understand the dynamics they may be observing. I encourage them to let each other know where they are at too. Of course, a level of trust must be developed first and a confidence that the trust will not be taken advantage of.

Resilience can be developed.

I have found that resilience can be developed and restored when we talk through problems with people. Just giving them a solution doesn’t help at all. Ask questions and lead them to finding a solution for themselves. Practicing optimism, being conscious of reacting positively towards others, valuing open and honest feedback, treating challenges as growth opportunities and keeping things in perspective are ways we can develop individual and organisational resilience.

For more information visit –

The Road to Resilience, American Psychological Association
Resilience at Work
10 Ways to Become More Resilient


  • Low levels of resilience may explain why you, or others on your team, might not “bounce” the way they usually do.
  • You can become self aware of the symptoms you experience when your resilience is depleted.
  • Resilience can be developed and restored.
  • Transparency and trust can help team members support each other through times of lower resilience.

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