Becoming a resilient leader: 10 strategies you should adopt

Do you want to be a resilient leader?

You’re not alone.

It is something we all ask about.

My story is simple

I started leading our first company called Oak Innovation after chronic and severe heart conditions meant that my husband was no longer part of the company.

Of course, I was nervous about taking the lead position. Yes, I had been part of the company. But, in many ways, the company was my husband’s baby.

And, understanding that I needed to step up is one thing.

Now, I had to look at how to do this.

I researched lots of management and leadership books. And I asked so many questions my head started to spin.

So, how do you build a resilient company? How do you develop a team? What is needed to create a resilient company? How to be a resilient leader?

My main finding is that there are ten simple steps to becoming a leader.

1. Remember to stay calm

But first an admission.

I get real tired of one-trick management consultants. They tell leaders that they need to change. But consistently fail to show them how. I even hate how they make the leader feel foolish as if they are deficient in some fashion.

Yes, rapid change is necessary at times.

But, stay calm – change takes time.

Building internal adaptability ensures that you do not run before you can walk.

And, your ability to stay calm while others around you are losing their heads will guarantee that you are seen as trustworthy and dependable by your team.

Stop. Breathe. And take your time.

2. Always find the opportunity

A leader is constantly looking for opportunities.

And you know what?

I’ve learned that there are opportunities in every situation.

Don’t be blindsided by emotions and panic.

Focus on the opportunity straight away.

Remember, there is always at least one opportunity within every situation.

Sounds good, right?

3. Understand that there are always different perspectives

We live in rapidly changing times, and as leaders, we have seen so many developments to fill a lifetime.

And, in reality, some companies are probably more at risk than ever before.

Consider the different perspectives that exist in your current situation.

What perspective do you choose?

And why?

4. Keep watching your long-term vision

Show your team that you understand where they are coming from.

Recognize and acknowledge their fears, hopes and dreams.

Be clear. And give your team a distinct picture of what you are planning.

And, keep an eye on the end game while you work within manageable pieces.

5. Be open to changing you

I used to think that I was on a particular path. I believed that I knew where I was going. And what I am great at.

But then, I was struck by a second sudden and traumatic event.

It came out of nowhere. And, it stopped me in my tracks. Everything changed. And, my life became topsy turvy.

Out of the depths, I learned that I had to become open to changing “me”.

And that being open to changing yourself is a significant step in becoming a leader.

Plus, a step toward post-traumatic growth.

6. Understand that change can be stressful

One of our challenges as resilient leaders is that our skills must continually improve.

In truth, leadership is a journey rather than a destination.

You know that change always causes some level of stress. This is due to a fear of the future or comfort in the past.

The fact is that some individuals find change hard.

And acknowledging that change can be stressful doesn’t mean we’re not coping.

It means we are human.

It’s OK to be stressed. But, it’s not OK to deny this emotion exists.

7. Focus on the present

I used to think a lot about the past. And I dare say I spent too much on what I did wrong.

In fact, post mortems about past decisions was a common preoccupation of mine.

Sound familiar?

Then, I went through a period of focusing on the future.

Things were bright. But, too aspirational.

Then I landed, by mistake, on an essential aspect of leadership.

Want to know what it is?

Well, the past is gone. The future hasn’t happened yet.

So, live in the now. And deal with them now, today.

8. Learn to trust yourself

Think about this for a moment.

Teams excel on trust and they become successful with leadership.

So, you first must trust yourself. Your self-assurance promotes confidence and guides how you connect with your team in a meaningful way.

Trust that everything will work out. And, remember you can do it.

Note how success is nothing new to resilient leaders – we survive and adapt every day.

But, we must believe in ourselves.

9. Make sure to stretch yourself

The simplest of all the steps.

And this is a beautiful trick toward leadership.

Stretch yourself in little ways every day. Start with small steps and build your confidence.

And what’s more.

While you make these changes, your team builds more trust in you.

So new changes become easier to implement.

10. Be open to change

I’ve learned a lot from great business writers like John Kotter, Tom Peters, Henry Mintzberg, and Sheryl Sandberg.

Of course, there are hundreds more that we can talk about.

When we think of leaders, we assume everything works smoothly for them. We don’t see their challenges or struggles.

But, we do understand that the first step is to be open to change.

Final thought

Of course, it’s easy to quote business gurus as innovators in this area.

I believe that it’s the lesser-known legends that we should consider.

They are just like you and me.

And, they live their advice in companies every day.


American Psychological Association. Building your resilience.

Bennis, W. G. & Ronald A. Heifetz, R. A. (2003) Harvard Business Review on Building Personal and Organizational Resilience. United States: Harvard Business School Press.

Conner, D. R. (1993). Managing At the Speed of Change. Villard Books.

Conner, D. R. (1998).  Leading at the Edge of Chaos: How to Create the Nimble Organization. New York: Wiley.

Hoopes. L. & Kelly, M. (2003). Managing Change with Personal Resilience: 21 Keys for Bouncing Back & Staying on Top in Turbulent Organizations. Mark Kelly Books.

Karen Reivic, K. & Shatte, A. (2003). The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles. Broadway Books.

Kay, R. &  Richardson, K. A.  (2007). Building and Sustaining Resilience in Complex Organizations United States: ISCE Publishing.

Maddi, S. R., & Khoshaba, D. M. (2005). Resilience at Work: How to Succeed No Matter What Life Throws at You. New York: AMACOM.

Maymin, S., Britton, K., Gillespie, K. & Chin, E. (2009). Resilience: How to Navigate Life’s Curves (Positive Psychology News). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Miller, B. (2005). The Woman’s Book of Resilience: 12 Qualities to Cultivate. Conari Press, U.S.

Patterson, J. L., Goens, G. A., & Reed, D. E. (2009). Resilient leadership for turbulent times: A guide to thriving in the face of adversity. R & L Education.

Russell, J. & Russell, L. (2003). Leading Change Training (ASTD Trainer’s Workshop Series). United States: ASTD Press.

Siebert, A. (2005).  The Resiliency Advantage: Master Change, Thrive Under Pressure, and Bounce Back from Setbacks. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.  

Slywotzky, A. & Badaracco Jr., J. L. (2002). Harvard Business Review on Leading in Turbulent Times (Harvard Business Review Paperback Series). United States: Harvard Business School Press.

Tirrell, R. (2009). The Wisdom of Resilience Builders: How our best leaders create the world’s most enduring enterprises. Authorhouse.

Walumbwa, F. O., Avolio, B. J., Gardner, W. L., Wernsing, T. S., & Peterson, S. J. (2008). Authentic leadership: Development and validation of a theory-based measure. Journal of Management, 34(1), 89-126.

Weick, K. E., & Sutcliffe, K. M. (2007). Managing the Unexpected: Resilient Performance in an Age of Uncertainty. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Wills, K. (2008). Change and Resilience in Organizations: A New Look at Change Management. Germany: VDM Verlag.

Kay Fitzgerald M. A.

Kay Fitzgerald is a health promotion specialist, course developer and researcher studying personal resilience in the workplace and trauma. Catherine received her Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Studies and a Master’s in Health Promotion from University College Cork.

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