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Resilience: An Underrated Leadership Skill

3 practices that help you bounce back from disappointment and setback.

I just read the new book Resilience by Daniel Goleman, et al. Part of Harvard Business Review’s “Emotional Intelligence” series, this short book lists 3 practices that help you bounce back from disappointment and setback:

1. The ability to see reality.

This surprised me. I would have guessed that you need optimism for resilience, but actually, optimism can distort your reality. As a leader, are we willing to see just how bad it is, before we vision the preferred future? One of my Strengthen Your Leadership clients is facing great challenges in her organization, and I noticed she was seeing reality. I told her, “You have amazing resilience. I know you do not always feel it, but you do.”

2. The ability to make meaning of terrible times.

Every leader faces terrible times. Some, when under duress, give up. But resilient people make meaning of terrible times. They devise “constructs” about their suffering to create some sort of meaning for themselves and others.

The authors point out that it’s helpful to “know your missional call” to keep going. I think they should have emphasized this more. In tough times, I want to say, “My call is still the same, but it’s being tested right now, and it can grow even stronger through this.”

3. The ability to make do with whatever is at hand.

My husband loves the scene in Apollo 13 where the engineers at Mission Control get an emergency assignment to solve the rising levels of CO2 on the spaceship: “We gotta find a way to make this [square box] fit in the hole for this [round canister], using nothing but that [box of supplies dumped on the table].” That’s the kind of assignment leaders get. Can you imagine possibilities where others are confounded?

In summary, “Resilient people and companies face reality with staunchness, make meaning of hardship instead of crying out in despair, and improvise solutions from thin air. Others do not. This is the nature of resilience, and we will never completely understand it.”

What situation is asking you to be resilient? Which of these 3 practices could you practice right now?

--Karen L. Miller, LCSW, is a leadership coach, and founder of

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