By Cathy Converse
“What’s comin’ will come and we’ll meet it when it does.” –Hagrid
Have you ever thought about the relationship between success and failure? Sure, they’re opposites, but they also go hand in hand more often than we think. Success is almost always built upon failed attempts. Almost every successful person we can think of has actually failed numerous times or has overcome significant hardships. J. K. Rowling and Stephen King were rejected by publishers many times before landing book deals that launched incredibly successful careers. Joe Biden overcame a severe stutter to become President of the United States. The Ford Motor Company was the third automobile company Henry Ford started—the first two went bankrupt. Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison were notoriously poor students.
And yet, these people, and many more like them, went on to incredible success. There may have been many reasons they were able to overcome tough times, but almost certainly one of these was that they were resilient.
At Collaborative Momentum Consulting (CMC) we believe strongly that courageous leadership is an important solution to problems that hinder our growth as individuals, groups, organizations, and communities today. Resilience is one of the characteristics that our research shows make up this type of leadership.
Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from hardships. It enables us to deal with stress, setbacks, and crises and to fulfill our potential in spite of these difficulties and disruptions.
Resilient people see failure as a temporary setback from which they can recover quickly. Yoder-Wise, et. al. (2021) point out that the goal isn’t just to “bounce back” from a setback, which only gets us back to where we started. Rather, a key factor in resiliency is to learn from our mistakes so that we can adapt and move forward. Resiliency requires a sense of optimism, that we believe that the challenge can be overcome and that we can find success. True, disruptions are stressful, but they also have a tendency to bring about new opportunities. This can be seen in any workplace. For example, a reorganization might close off a career path we are envisioning, and thus seem devastating at first glance. But if we step back and reflect on the situation, we can often find that new opportunities have emerged where we least expected them. Opportunities always accompany challenges—we just have to be open to finding them.
The key to resiliency is to allow for recovery periods after facing a challenge. Nobody can endure one stressful event after another with no break in between. It’s important to remember that stressful events don’t just happen at work—they also occur in our personal lives. Therefore, we need to be intentional about building in recovery time. Activities as restful as binge-watching the latest television series or as invigorating as a long hike can help us recover from stress and build the resilience we need to overcome the challenges we face. If we can treat ourselves with self-compassion and give ourselves credit for having the courage to confront the setbacks in our lives, we will develop resiliency.
Resilience requires courage, especially when our stress is a result of a failure in our lives. It takes courage to show up when we’re embarrassed or disappointed. It takes courage to confront an unpleasant reality or uncomfortable facts, and it takes self-awareness to recognize our role in the setback.
Resiliency in Leadership
Resiliency is an important leadership characteristic. It’s very difficult for teams to overcome challenges if their leaders cannot do so. A study by the leadership development consultancy Zenger Folkman found that resiliency is strongly correlated to effective leadership. By demonstrating resiliency, leaders acknowledge unfortunate situations in a positive manner, without engaging in negative behavior or harming others. These leaders can protect the energy of their teams and bring others along with them on the path forward. Leaders can demonstrate resiliency in the following ways:
- Communicate prolifically. Share as much as you can about what happened and help others understand a new strategy or direction. One-on-one conversations are important in addition to group discussions. Engage teams in generating ideas for overcoming obstacles and help them find the opportunities that setbacks present.
- Foster connectivity. Research across a number of disciplines has shown that forming bonds with others builds trust and gives us the confidence to overcome the disappointment of failures and to take risks as we move forward. For suggestions, see our blog post on connectivity.
- Value self-care. Knowing that recovery time is essential to resilience, leaders who model self-care by taking breaks at lunchtime and using their vacation time, for example, demonstrate to others that recovery is not a weakness, but rather an essential component of success.
- Take risks. Though it seems counterintuitive, retreating to a safe spot is not the way to move forward after a setback. Leaders who demonstrate their self-confidence by taking risks and being decisive will recover and move forward much more quickly than those who don’t.
- Develop others. Be deliberate about helping everyone learn from their mistakes and to see the benefits of overcoming difficult experiences as they move forward.
By demonstrating the courage to acknowledge and learn from difficult situations, we can lead others to success, not in spite of challenges, but because of them. After more than 9,000 failed attempts to create the light bulb, Edison said, “Why would I feel like a failure? And why would I ever give up? I now know definitely over 9,000 ways an electric lightbulb will not work. Success is almost in my grasp.”
Why It’s Important to be a Resilient Leader. (2018, November 8). Health Designs. https://www.healthdesigns.net/resilient-leader/. Accessed February 2021.
Ellin, A. (2016, October 9). Resiliency: The Buzzword That Could Take Your Career to New Heights. Johnson & Johnson. https://www.jnj.com/innovation/resilience-in-the-workplace-training-human-performance-institute. Accessed February 2021.
Folkman, J. (2017, April 6). New Research: 7 Ways to Become a More Resilient Leader. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/joefolkman/2017/04/06/new-research-7-ways-to-become-a-more-resilient-leader/?sh=4791ab277a0c. Accessed February 2021.
Modglin, A. (2017, July 11). Why Resilience is Necessary as a Leader. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2017/07/11/why-resilience-is-necessary-as-a-leader/?sh=622cb1ae4ad3. Accessed February 2021.
Yoder-Wise, P. S. (2021). Resilience. In P.S. Yoder-Wise, et. al. The Leadership Trajectory: Developing Legacy Leaders-ship. St. Louis: Elsevier.
This article is one in a series on the components of Courageous Leadership. For more information, visit our Courageous Leadership web page.