Why resilience is the true heart of leadership

Thought Leadership on Women’s Leadership presented by Grace Killelea, CEO of The GKC Group & Half the Sky Leadership.

If success, leadership and fulfillment are why you went into business in the first place, then understanding how you respond to challenges, disappointments and crises is important. Resilience is the mark of all success stories, much as it is the mark of every good leader.

Many people think resilience is just about bouncing back from a challenging time or getting over disappointment or experiencing a loss in your professional or personal life. It is that, certainly, but resilience is so much more.

For me, resilience is at the very heart of leadership. It matters because it’s about how people adapt and then are able to move forward. Some of us can get over a hump or a challenge or a loss, or even around an obstacle, but if we never process what we did to surmount that challenge, we’re just setting ourselves up for more — and more disastrous — challenges in the future. Resilience is about overcoming adversity and “winning,” but — perhaps more importantly — it’s also about adapting to avoid future challenges in the first place.

Jill Campbell, EVP and COO of Cox Communications, says: “Resilience is really important. People whom I’ve seen succeed the most are the ones who get kicked in the teeth and get up quicker than anyone else. You know, they’ll grieve, they’ll feel sorry for themselves for 10 minutes, and then they just rally. I think they’re fearless, but it’s not a reckless fearlessness. It’s more a willingness to take risks, step out there, make mistakes, but not see that as the end of the world. So resilience is really important, particularly in moving up the ladder in your career. And sometimes you just have to accept a ‘no,’ you know? That’s the reality of how it works. You may have your heart set on something and it’s just not going to happen and so you’ve got to know when to spend your time to get to ‘yes’ and when you just cut your losses [and move on].”

Triumphing over adversity is an admirable achievement, but if it doesn’t become a transferable skill, or even a habit, it will never lead to true change, which after all is at the heart of resilience. The act of overcoming becomes a transformation. That is resilience.

For me, one of the hallmarks of resilience is how people learn from challenges, adversity, failures, even lack of opportunity. For instance, watch what happens when resilient people don’t get picked for something or if they miss out on a raise, an opportunity, a promotion or a leadership challenge:

  • Do they give up and blame others?
  • Do they storm out of their supervisor’s office in the midst of a tantrum?
  • Do they go around bad-mouthing whoever they perceive “robbed” them of their opportunity?
  • Do they immediately go and vent on social media about the situation?

Sure, they may be hurt or disappointed or even jealous, but they don’t let that stop the learning process. Instead, resilient people step back, assess the situation, do an internal audit, and try to determine where they came up short. They ask:

  • Am I taking my job status too lightly?
  • Am I getting too comfortable in my role?
  • Have I been stuck in neutral too long and need to find another gear?
  • Is my paperwork getting sloppy?

Resilient people see disappointment, even failure, as an opportunity to shake off the dust, start anew, and reinvigorate their performance. Having the grit to get back up, and to remember other times when it’s been hard to keep moving but we’ve done it, is critical for long-term success.

After her son Connor died in a boating accident when he was not wearing a life vest, Dana Gage founded the LV Project, which is dedicated to improving water safety and creating buoyancy in life. According to Dana, “You’ve got to be comfortable with discomfort. If you wait, you’re never going to move forward with anything. You have to just keep walking forward. Don’t be afraid of what might be across the bridge. What will happen will happen, so just accept that things are not always going to go well, and move forward anyway.”

Throughout my book, The Confidence Effect, I ask you to do a few simple things to become confident to the core: Raise your hand more often. Get out there. Speak up. Stand out.

I realize that trying new things, particularly when you may not be used to them, can often lead to disappointment. Maybe you’ve been doing those things, speaking up, standing out, asking more, and it’s just not going your way. You’re not getting picked immediately; you may not be seeing direct results.

Often, what you learn when you don’t get picked is more important than what you may or may not learn when you do get picked. How we handle disappointment defines us almost more than our success does.

One further point to understand: No one escapes failure. Sometimes the failure is our own mistake, sometimes it’s out of our hands, but if we can be resilient in the face of failure, we can lead others to success.

Click here for more Thought Leadership from Half The Sky Leadership for Women

Read more about resilience, confidence and leadership in my book, The Confidence Effect. Go to http://www.theconfidenceeffectbook.com/.