Resilience — The Fourth Measure of Success


IQ (Intelligence Quotient), EQ (Emotional Quotient) and SQ (Spiritual Quotient) could be missing the trick argues Kevin McAlpin.


Michael Millar


The war for talent is eternal, but are those trying to recruit the high-fliers of tomorrow actually fighting it on the right front? A new theory says that recruiters need to shift their focus to a far more effective measure of success — how resilient their potential staff are.


One British management expert who agrees with this theory is Kevin McAlpin, managing director of Performance Coaching International. He claims that years of coaching top flight executives and research of over 10,000 individuals for his new book, the Five-Minute Failure, has consistently shown him that resilience is the key differentiator between the successful and the also-rans.

McAlpin believes resilience is much more important than the present tendency for measuring two-letter acronyms such as intelligence quotient (IQ), emotional intelligence (EQ) or the latest, spiritual intelligence (SQ).

“Companies should be spending much more time recruiting, developing and promoting resilience in their leaders, managers and staff,” he said. “This is the X-factor that allows you to access your skills when you need them and lets you perform under pressure.”

“Resilience gives you the ability to get back up when things go wrong and act in the most appropriate way,” McAlpin added. “It’s more than just dogged determination; it’s about bouncing back and learning from experiences.”

“When I ask individuals, teams or groups at conferences what makes a great leader, the answer that comes back time and time again is — it’s 80% attitude and 20% skills.”

This theory is backed up by research by psychology professor Daryl O’Connor, who found resilience was more likely to lead to success at the top of organisations rather than IQ.

Seven Aspects of Resilience

For companies wanting to tap into resilience, McAlpin said there are certain characteristics that make up a resilient person. Interviewers can use these to gauge just how resilient the person sitting in front of them is.

These can be condensed down to seven (is there any other number when it comes to management theory?) aspects of a person’s character:

  1. They are grounded in reality
  2. They believe there is a higher purpose to what they do
  3. They have a vision for their future
  4. They set milestones and goals
  5. They have a clear understanding of their values and strengths
  6. They are creative thinkers but channel that creativity effectively
  7. They learn from their failures.

The first is, somewhat surprisingly, resilient people have a firm grounding in reality rather than their heads in the clouds.

“You’d think the biggest optimists would bounce back quickest but they tend to have unrealistic expectations,” he said. “This is more about being optimistic but also being realistic so you are prepared for any eventuality.”

McAlpin warns companies not to confuse this type of person with pessimists – or those clever pessimists who claim they are realists – because these are people who set low targets and fear failure.

The next facet of resilient people is they tend to see a higher purpose or meaning what they are doing.

McAlpin said this means that even if terrible things happen, they know they can keep going.

“They realise the current problem is down to something that will be ultimately important,” he says.

Nelson Mandela waiting out his days in jail until the end of Apartheid is often cited as a good example of this principle.

“His jailers couldn’t believe his consistently positive attitude, but his focus was always on his higher purpose,” McAlpin said.

Closely linked to this is that resilient people have a vision for either themselves or the organisation they are working in, allowing them to see what is happening at any given moment and how this fits into the bigger picture.

To make this ultimate vision actually seem attainable it’s necessary to have milestones and goals along the way to measure progress.

McAlpin said it’s possible to subdivide these into three categories.

“These are a mixture of directional goals – immediate successes, stretch goals that push you and a few ‘not on your life’ goals which take you firmly out of your comfort zone,” he said.

Resilient people have a habit of surrounding themselves with people who can support them and challenge them when they need it, he added.

The next ‘key differentiator’ that resilient people possess is a capacity for creative thought.

But McAlpin warns this is not just about being able to come up with wacky ideas.

“This is about how you look at things rather than just being creative for creative’s sake,” he said. “There needs to be structure and planning to this. This is about thinking inside the box and filling it with lots of ideas that fit.”

The final aspect to resilient people is the core of their success, according to McAlpin.

“This is about learning – if things go wrong then you have to learn from failure if you are going to be resilient,” he said.

Nature and Nurture

The good news is that resilience is both nurture and nature – it can be developed in anyone.

“No one is a no-hoper when it comes to resilience; if you mentor and coach someone properly there’s no reason why you can’t develop,” McAlpin said. “But it is much more difficult to teach than technical skills, which is why a person’s current level of resilience should be so important to the recruitment process.”

However, there is a caveat before you rush out to load your organisation with highly resilient people –

“This type of attitude tends to lend itself to leadership – if all your people are highly resilient then they will all want to be leaders rather than followers and this can create increased competition and you have conflict,” he warned.

McAlpin said that it was important to make sure there are leaders at all levels in your organisation.

“But if this is the case be sure not to avoid conflict management, develop the ability to deal with conflict in your teams and leaders as it will become increasingly important in an ever-more dynamic culture resilient people are sure to bring,”.

Tap Into Your Resilience

Being resilient gives people the confidence to deal with change, cope with upheaval, and adapt to setbacks while remaining motivated, productive and positive in the face of adversity.

Explore the Resilient Leadership Programme