Are You a Resilient Leader?

By Susie Kelleher on March 22, 2017

How would you describe a resilient leader? When I ask this question, similar themes emerge from the answers. Resilient leaders are emotionally composed, even while under attack. They quickly acknowledge obstacles and ask others for input to solve problems. They see obstacles as a path to new possibilities and a way to showcase the talents of others. They are not directive or controlling, but inviting and empowering instead. They do not quiet their opponents with their authority or feel threatened by other perspectives. They don’t fall into a tailspin of reactive tendencies and self-preservation. Instead, they invite different perspectives to inform their own decision making.

Resilient leaders are servant leaders. They are focused, present and engaged in what they are doing and whom they are with. They are never too busy or too important to look you in the eye and give you their full attention. I met someone recently who had the good fortune of meeting Nelson Mandela. He shared that when Mandela spoke it was as if no one else was in the room, even though there were hundreds of people present. This is how leaders inspire others. Take a moment to think about the leaders around you—in your organization, your community, and the world—who embody this approach.

It’s not about toughness
We sometimes confuse resilience with determination or toughness, but it’s not the same. Resilient leaders are tough and determined, but they use their determination for the good of the whole—to empower others, not drive their own agenda. There are a lot of highly determined and tough leaders out there who actually lose great employees and negatively impact outcomes. They drive compliance, not commitment, and are oblivious to the effect they have on others.

Resilient leaders are purposeful. They are dedicated to increasing their self-awareness and growing their resilience throughout their career. They don’t stop when they hit a certain level. They make a lifelong commitment that takes work and diligent focus in order to progress over time.

Resilience is critical to thriving in today’s ever-changing environment. As leaders, we must role-model these behaviors if we hope to have an innovative, engaged and adaptable culture.

Recovery time matters
Resilient leaders don’t tell you how overworked and incredibly busy they are. They don’t wear working 24/7 as a badge of honor. Why? Because that doesn’t create resilience—it creates exhaustion and an inability to control our emotions and bring our best self to the situation. Resilient leaders strategically use the art of stress and recovery. Jim Loehr brilliantly speaks to this in Stress for Success. Stress is critical for any growth we want—whether we’re focusing on a physical or mental muscle—and must be followed by recovery. Unfortunately, we often don’t let our emotional and mental muscles recover the way we do our physical muscles.

Strategic recovery can be as small as one minute of deep breathing or a walk up the stairs, or as big as a two-week vacation. Whatever your recovery technique is, be intentional about it and treat it like any other important event on your calendar. The best athletes in the world are highly resilient—it’s a requirement to be the best. How do they achieve such high standards of excellence? They focus as much energy on their recovery as they do on their training! What forms of recovery do you use throughout the day to hit the reset button?

It starts with you
I often hear leaders say, “I don’t have time for this,” or “This stuff doesn’t matter,” or my favorite, “This stuff is too simple to really work!” The fact is, it is easy to understand conceptually, but changing our behaviors is not easy, and many don’t apply the initial effort it takes to do so.

To help you get started, dive into the first four items on the following list. Make sure that you set time aside on your calendar to get very clear on the first two. With this foundation in place, the other items will come more easily to you.

Resilient leaders do the following:

  1. They have clarity around a larger purpose and reflect on it often.
  2. They clearly know their values and don’t compromise on them.
  3. They use stress to grow and have habitual recovery routines they stick to.
  4. They take care of their whole being—physical, mental and emotional.
  5. They aren’t trying to prove their value or be indispensable. They’re focused on proving the value of others.
  6. They have a positive and nonjudgmental inner coach that is curious, compassionate and lives in possibility.
  7. They seek perspectives and ideas that don’t align with their own. They are inspired by others, not threatened.
  8. They don’t inflate or deflate their own worthiness. They are compassionately confident.

Becoming a resilient leader means spending more time exercising the rational, smart and creative side of the brain, and less time in a reactive, fight-or-flight mode. It means better decision making and more meaningful impact on others—and it results in greater fulfillment and well-being.

So, tell us: Are you a resilient leader? What is one thing that you can start doing differently tomorrow to be more resilient?

Posted in Blog, Leadership Development

About Susie Kelleher

Susie Kelleher is a Principal Consultant and Executive Coach at Linkage. Susie has close to 25 years of experience with a unique and diverse background. She has been a healthcare provider, a sales consultant, a leader of people and a coach and consultant to organizations, teams, individuals and groups. She brings tremendous passion to the work of collaborating with organizations to achieve their long-term vision, with a special focus on creating a healthy and thriving culture.
17 comments on “Are You a Resilient Leader?
  1. Wow. I didn’t know it until now, but I want to be a resilient leader – in my business, in my community, with my family, and in all areas of my life! This lesson in resiliency inspires me to be more focused, present and intentional… and also to give myself time for recovery. Thank you for these valuable insights!

    • Susie Kelleher says:

      Thanks so much for your response Jean. I love that you are focusing on recovery, many times it is the lack of that which makes the rest so hard! Personally that has been one of my biggest obstacles!

  2. Angela Shifrin says:

    Fantastic blog! This is chock full of such useful information – I already have identified some items I must stop doing and those I must start doing. Thank you for providing such insightful advice!

  3. doug b says:

    Well said Susie…in today’s environment of high velocity change, leaders cannot afford to not build this muscle of resiliency. Myself-I am digging into the first four items on your list today!

  4. Greg says:

    Excellent perspective on the pivotal role of resiliency in effective and sustainable leadership. I was just speaking to a group of graduate students on this very topic and asking them to contemplate the leaders in their work and play places against the ideal of resiliency. From the direction of that discussion, I believe that the topic is also appropriate for inclusion in parenting blogs. And, it also became clear that resiliency within peer teams is a highly desirable characteristic and the inverse quite debilitating and energy draining.

    I do wonder if some leaders may have just as difficult a time “recovering” from successes. I’ve seen leaders get so manic over success that they completely forget to take inventory of their people’s emotional and physical capacity before plunging headfirst into the next big ocean of perceived opportunity. I’ve also seen leaders become complacent after big (and small) wins. Resiliency may have even broader implications than responsiveness to obstacles.

    Enjoyable read Susie!

    • Susie Kelleher says:

      Greg, thank you for adding so many wonderful and thoughtful perspectives. I completely agree with you and particularly really enjoyed this sentence, “resiliency within peer teams is a highly desirable characteristic and the inverse quite debilitating and energy draining.” Very well said, and so important in today’s working environment. Thank you for your thoughtful sharing of ideas.

  5. Beth Gordon says:

    Susie – thank you for this thoughtful post. In my role of “internal consulting” this was a great re-set for me to discuss with the leader’s I represent. The idea of intentionality, what does that mean and more importantly how does that look would be very good conversation. Also the piece on recovery is the age old problem. I will have to check out the book you recommended. Great post.
    Thank you
    Beth Gordon

  6. GREAT article Susie – I very much enjoyed this read. It reenforces beliefs I have and gives me more to work on. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us!

  7. Susan D says:

    We all need to search for these role models of true, effective leadership and hopefully learn how to become one. Thanks for breaking it down into steps to make it easier to identify the way to change.

    • Susie Kelleher says:

      Thank you Susan and I love the idea of looking for these leaders among us and hope we can find more and more of them–and that they become the role models for future generations of leaders.

  8. Debbie McGarity says:

    Hi Susie, what a great post! I’m not sure where to start — you make so many solid points on resilient leaders! One I keep going back to is “Resilience is critical to thriving in today’s ever-changing environment,” which is just so true. I can’t tell you how often my manager often reminds all of us to “just keep your knees bent” when it comes to change. Thanks for the post — keep ’em coming!

    • Susie Kelleher says:

      Thank you so much Debbie for taking time to comment! Sincerely appreciate your thoughts, especially as someone who is living it first-hand!

  9. Rich D says:

    Thanks for the post Susie. Your article was a good reflection of how the best teams I have been involved with focus on possibilities and next steps. The forward perspective does not show up in words but more in the perspectives and actions of the people. Funny how the leader’s actions might not be immediately recognized if noticed at all. The downtime thinking through this is valuable to me Susie. You probably guessed by now…I am going to focus on number 6 for the next couple of weeks!

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