What Makes A Resilient Leader?

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Navigating a successful career as a leader in organisations today is no mean feat. It’s a roller coaster of highs and lows, achievements, failures and continuously overcoming one road block after another.
It’s hardly surprising then to read that ‘resilience’ is a crucial leadership skill.

So, lets explore what makes a resilient leader and how can resilience be developed?

First, let’s look at a definition;

“The ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity.”

Often I hear clients and participants on our Leadership Programmes discussing change and how constant it truly is.  In this context, I think of resilience as ‘the ability to adapt to diverse change’.

Before we discuss resilience in the context of leadership, it’s worth remembering that we all have access to resilience, even those who are less fortunate than we are. We all have challenges in our daily lives. Sometimes we fail or hit the occasional brick wall and have personal or family issues to deal with.
My point is, we typically overcome the hurdles and look forwards. Even when we’re struggling we tend to put on a face and ‘show up’ for our friends, loved ones and colleagues and crack on. This is resilience; it isn’t always about having completed an Iron man or marathon.

Why Is It Important For Leaders To Have Resilience?

I mentioned earlier that for many people, ‘change’ is a constant. For leaders, this means they’re leading and managing their teams through events such as an organisational restructure or perhaps the transitioning of a new CEO or several highly regarded Directors. For many industries, market conditions could mean that company performance has been poor and needs addressing.

It’s at times like this when a team can become:

  • Demotivated
  • Concerned about their job security
  • Negative with a ‘glass half empty’ mindset
  • Stressed
  • Unproductive and disruptive

This is when a team look towards their leader for support and reassurance. They want a leader who will ‘be their voice’. Someone who will share the team’s views in forums where they aren’t physically present.

The higher the challenge, the bigger the opportunity to continue developing resilience. When we sign up to be a leader, it’s for both the good and the challenging times.

How Does Self Awareness Impact Resilience?

The more insight a leader has about their own strengths, behaviours and attitudes, the more they
can choose their response in any given situation.

When a team is going through any kind of change, it’s easy to forget that this change also impacts leaders. They are expected to go through their own ‘change curve experience’ at speed.

It’s at times like this when a leader may also be experiencing pressure and stress. This is often exacerbated by the need to ‘tune in’ even closer to what is going on and not project their own feelings onto their team.

When is it time to listen and support, or to voice their concerns, versus communicating what the business priorities are and keeping the team focused on the bigger picture; what needs to be achieved and by when.

In situations where a leader lacks awareness, they are more likely to be concerned only with themselves and the impact any changes will have on them individually.

This may send them into a downward spiral which they find hard to bounce back from. They end up lacking emotional and physical resources required to support themselves, let alone their team.

How Can A Leader Demonstrate Their Resilience?

Welcome Challenging Times:

Use them as opportunities to grow. Lead by example and encourage your team to explore how they can brave the storm and come out the other side stronger as a team and individually.

Be A Role Model:

The way you deal with situations and handle conversations is continusouly being observed by your team. Act like the strong leader you are; make decisions, keep communicating even if you are repeating the same messages; stay composed and confident, look for what can be achieved; and focus on what you can control. Encourage your team to do the same to build their own resilience.

Be Vulnerable And Learn From Mistakes:

In the book ‘Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn’, John Maxwell says, “Adversity is a better teacher than success.”

Fact: We are going to make mistakes. Take time to reflect on what happened, be confident to share what you’ve learnt and importantly, what you plan to do differently next time. Being a vulnerable leader is another quality of great leadership!

These are powerful behaviours, and they will communicate to your team that it’s ok for them to fail; it’s how they deal with it – FAIL = First Attempt In Learning! So everyone needs to learn from their mistakes and do something differently next time!  This is how they too will continue to build their resilience.



Rachel Hewitt-Hall


About Excel Communications

Excel Communications has a 30-year history as a global leadership and communication skills organisation dedicated to exceeding the expectations of clients through the training and development of their business and people.

We have a team of expert trainers delivering programmes across four continents in multiple languages. Isn’t it time you got in touch? Call us now on +44 (0) 1628 488 854.