Can your leaders bounce back when the pressure is on?

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Can your leaders bounce back when the pressure is on?
Posted November 3, 2014

In a world where leaders have to contend with rapidly changing and complex environments, resilience is increasingly emerging as a seminal skill for leaders in organizations. Resilient leaders are change proficient, they cope well with unexpected setbacks, and overcome unwanted adversities. Psychological resilience is the capacity to thrive in spite of risk or adversity. This means to not only survive life's challenges, but also being able to learn and grow from these challenges.

The word “resilience” comes from the field of Physics, where a resilient object bends under stress but then bounces back instead of breaking. A resilient person thus not only bounces back from adversity but can also become stronger in the process. Resilience is a dynamic process which means that those who are resilient or stress-hardy are able to renew themselves on a regular basis. Resilience enables the individual to find a way to move beyond challenges toward a stronger self. In stark contrast, those who take a “deficit perspective” of stressful incidents are eventually worn out; and succumb to stressors which can often lead to or exacerbate existing health problems.

In order therefore to build a strong resilient self, it is important to pay attention to your general health and well-being. Taking regular renewal breaks, exercising and eating healthily are all aspects that assist in creating resilience and enhances the individual’s capacity to deal with on-going, chronic stress and change.

Apart from paying attention to their general well-being, those who are resilient are also characterised by an ability to cope well with unusual strains and stressors. Resilient individuals try to exert as much control as they are able to under trying circumstances which allows for a sense of being involved in events as they unfold, rather than becoming immobilised in the face of adversity. Looking at what you can control and improve on when faced with a crisis can be seen as an action-oriented approach to stressful events. It focuses on the positive impact your actions may have rather than spending too much energy and time on analysing what caused the crisis in the first place. Being decisive and doing as much as you can, rather than avoiding problems, gives an individual a greater sense of control. Setting realistic goals, taking regular small steps towards achieving them, as well as visualising the desired future outcome further enhance this sense of control and so builds resilience.

Resilience is further a combination of both inner strength and external support systems. A key belief of extremely resilient individuals is their view of stressful change as a challenge. Adverse situations are seen as opportunities for growth and learning, regardless of whether these changes turn out to be positive or negative. When problems are simply beyond your control and you are unable to alter the course of events, what remains is to change the way you interpret and react to these events. Focusing on what you want and engaging in positive self-talk rather than being mired in fear, are ways of becoming resilient. Another useful approach is to develop the ability to reflect on your own experiences and your specific ways of dealing with loss, hardship or emotional problems, which will in turn, allow for a greater appreciation of the lessons inherent in these.

People who cope well with life’s challenges have a strong inner sense of self, and are confident in their ability to ride the waves, which enables them to remain optimistic and hopeful.They are also socially connected and have a support system that they can tap into in times of adversity. Supportive and caring relationships, both at a personal and professional level, allow those who are facing stressful events to see things from many different perspectives and also allow them the opportunity to vent psychologically, which in itself has healing qualities.

Resilience is a skill that can be learned, and generally emerges in people who have particularly strong positive attitudes, cognitive and emotional skills and a deep determination to overcome serious challenges. More than ever before, leaders need to be well rested.  We can only truly lead well with rested brains. When we work incessantly, without a break to breathe, we do ourselves and our organizations a disservice. 


How do you rate on the resiliency scale?

To find out what your level of resilience is at present, take Al Siebert’s Resiliency Quiz at

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