Resilience Is A Trait You Can Learn And It Will Take You Far

‘Smooth seas never made a skilled sailor’ said Franklin D. Roosevelt in the early 20th century. One of my all time favourite quotes, it captures the inevitability of setbacks in our lives and the power those setbacks have to make us better if we adapt the right mindset. Examples of skilled sailors are plentiful but three of my personal favourites are J.K Rowling, whose first Harry Potter book was rejected by no less than twelve publishers; Anna Wintour, who as a junior editor was fired for being “too edgy”; and Oprah Winfrey who was demoted from her first TV newsreader role as a twentysomething.

We, just like Rowling, Wintour, and Winfrey don’t get to choose our rough seas but we do remain in control of our reaction to the storm surges. Resilience is our ability to keep moving forward in the face of disappointment. Not to be mistaken with Pollyanna positivity,  true resilience is maintaining passion and perseverance in the direction of our goal, even when we fall down. Luckily, it’s a trait that can be learned. And learn we should- Professor Angela Duckworth from the University of Pennsylvania, has found that ‘grit’, and not talent or luck, is one of the hallmarks of a great leader.

Based on her research here are five strategies for building your resilience for the next time you’re faced with a setback:

No pity parties

After something doesn’t go well it’s very easy to throw a pity party and ask, ‘Why Me?’ In many ways a perfectly normal reaction but as leaders it is our responsibility to lead both in the good and bad times. Pity parties are counterproductive and benefit nobody. Time is precious so don’t linger on the disappointment. Instead move from thought to action.

Learn from experience

This may sound like a cliché, but it is vitally important. Learning leaders are a force to be reckoned with. Take out a pen and paper and write down what the experience has taught you. The list will be longer than you think but preserve and ask yourself -


‘What was the best part of this experience?’

‘What was the worst part of this experience?’

‘What did I learn from this?’

‘What would I do differently next time?’

Good leaders find lessons in their failures. Great leaders apply those learnings in the future.

Listen to people while avoiding negativity


We all have negative people in our lives. The ones who never have anything positive to say and seem to enjoy failure. Offering no solutions, the temptation is to ignore them yet as a resilient leader it is your job – albeit a challenging one - to listen to the concerns of every member of your team (even the annoyingly negative ones). Everyone has the potential to offer insight and therefore solutions. Listen and learn from all your team. Be candid, clear and transparent in how you speak with, listen to and digest all concerns. Understanding the catalogue of concerns may actually hold the key to unlocking the insight you need.

Be agile

It’s always good to have a plan B. Even though you have no intention of using it, plan B must be just as well thought out as plan A. Your Plan B provides you with a pre-meditated menu of options for when the proverbial hits the fan. Consider all potential options, you might even look at another industry for innovativation and inspiration. So, whatever your plan B is, the important thing is to have one, that you are ready to implement it and that you are agile in adapting it if needs be.

Invest in yourself

A lot of setbacks are beyond our control. So, instead of beating yourself up, do just the opposite. Look after yourself, mentally and physically. Get the basics right - eat a meal of clean, nutritious food with your family or friends. Drink plenty of water. Get eight hours sleep. Do some exercise. By doing these things as often as possible you remain refreshed, rejuvenated and ready to take on your next leadership challenge.

Remember your team are always watching and learning from you. Your actions and reactions role model the future direction of your team, determine company culture and predict team engagement. Resilience displayed by you as a leader is the key which is capable of unlocking great potential in you and in your team.

Remember nothing goes exactly how we plan it so dealing with disappointment is a must-have leadership skill. We will all fall from time to time, it is how we choose to get back up that makes all the difference.

Photo credit: Jordan Donaldson, Unsplash

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