The Power of Resilience


Resilience is key in critical moments. Being able to access your skills when you need them most makes the difference between surviving and thriving.


Kevin McAlpin


Great Britain’s Olympians and Paralympians honed day-to-day resilience over four years to hit top spots in 2012, and continued straight after to prepare for 2016. Whether you’re Andy Murray, Jessica Ennis, Mo Farrah, David Weir or Ellie Simmonds, the same is true in business — with every hurdle met, organisations need to have the resolve to jump the next.

Much is made of unemployment figures, but there are serious issues facing those still lucky enough to have a job amid the financial storm. The economic crisis of 2009 has changed so much about the business landscape, with enormous organisational, financial and human ramifications.

For them, the workplace is now very different. Many of the organisations we visit want everything faster and are demanding staff to do more with less and talk about the stress levels of their staff. People are working longer hours, and in some cases we’ve found it’s only adrenalin, passion, commitment and sometimes fear, that is keeping senior managers ploughing on.

With the global mindset more one of ‘what is wrong’ rather than ‘what is right’, the latest UK unemployment figures show 1.67m people are unemployed in the UK — 5% of the working population — with plenty of economists predicting there is more upheaval post-Brexit.

Change Affects Every Sector

If you go into public sector organisations in particular, you see a big difference in productivity. Things used to be much slower there than in the private sector, but the gap in the demands placed on these workers compared to their private sector counterparts has dramatically narrowed. In local government, the amount of change they have to deal with and the volumes they need to deliver have changed beyond recognition.

These days we see conditions for private and public sector managers that are almost interchangeable. Managers are being asked to be more resilient than ever in terms of the hours they work and the way they interact with colleagues. Unsurprisingly, the difficult conversations they are forced to have with workers about redundancy, productivity and behaviour have quickly grown.

Resistance is Fertile

Resilience may be a mainstay of almost every management role you’d care to mention, but research shows that less than 10% of organisations actually teach it. Professor Daryl O’Connor found there was a bigger correlation with resilience and the top of the organization so why is it not taught? Well, the truth is it now is – some of the world’s leading organisations are delivering programmes to develop the resilience of their leaders.

Through a mixture of focus groups, executive coaching sessions, and an independent survey we found that out of 9,000 executives, 86% said that maintaining their drive and resilience was something vital to their success, but they’d never been taught anything about this key trait. Almost all of them (98%) said the need for resilience had increased substantially in the last 12 months.

Resilience is one of the great mysteries of management: everyone has to have it, but no one will ever tell you how to achieve it. However, for us, there are five key ways of developing resilience and (happy days!) four of them you can learn:

  1. Personal Experience

We encourage people to draw on their personal experience; if someone goes through something challenging it builds up resilience. You can draw on these turbulent times whether they happened when you were young or five minutes ago. Reminding yourself you’ve been there and done it already will make you more determined not to let it happen again.

  1. Watch and Learn

You can observe and absorb from experience of others. Quite simply, if they can do it, then so can you.

  1. Modelling Excellence

More practically you can do what the coaching industry calls ‘modelling excellence’, but what everyone else calls ‘copying’. So just ask how someone how they crossed a particular hurdle and follow suit.

  1. Choose Your Company Carefully

Finally, you can pick out and surround yourself with the right people. This is called ‘social influencing’ because the right people will push you to believe almost anything is possible.

  1. The Holy Grail

The one we can’t teach is natural resilience, which comes from your psychological or physiological makeup. If you’ve got that, then you’re one of the lucky few, and you should be out helping others rather than reading this!

The Tools to Deal with Anything

Learning how to be resilient gives executives the confidence to deal with change, cope with upheaval, and adapt to setbacks while remaining motivated, productive and positive in the face of adversity. Reserves of resilience live within everyone, but sometimes we need a structured and a scientific approach to bring it to the fore.

Explore the Resilient Leadership Programme