Women into Leadership: Resilience & wellbeing


Category: Leadership

March 19, 2020

“Leaders are the stewards of organisational energy [resilience]...they inspire or demoralise others, first by how effectively they manage their own energy and next by how well they manage, focus, invest and renew the collective energy [resilience] of those they lead.” - Loehr and Schwartz

Resilient and happy
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

During the Hilda Matheson: Women into Leadership programme, the second topic we worked on was resilience and wellbeing.

We began by looking at how emotion can define how we respond. We talked through scenarios that often occur in the workplace (and in leadership) and thought about how we would respond if we felt a range of different emotions.

One of the scenarios was...you have been in your job for a significant period of time and are well regarded in your industry. You have always requested to be treated on par with your colleagues and in return have been flexible in your approach to work. Recently, you discovered that your employers didn't keep their side of the bargain. How would you respond if you were feeling...

  • Ambition

  • Resentment

  • Resignation

  • Acceptance

  • Overwhelm

After talking in groups we started to map out the responses we had for each emotion:

  • Ambition - 'I wonder what I can do with this?'

  • Resentment - 'I can't believe this, how underhand, I bet they didn't do this to anyone else!'

  • Resignation - 'There is nothing I can do about this.'

  • Acceptance - 'Ok, I now know how they operate, I can decide what I want to do about it.'

  • Overwhelm - 'OMG I can't go to work today'

We then were asked to think what is the most useful state of mind to be in? When it comes to work and leadership, we have people relying on us to do the right thing, but as this shows our emotional state will impact how we are able to respond and resolve an issue. With this in mind, we started to talk about how important it is to be resilient.

Why is resilience essential?

When we look at the environments we live in, they are volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA). Across the world there are daily events that challenge us, for example Brexit, the refugee crisis and the threat of nuclear war. In the workplace, there are also challenges, for example bullying, lack of autonomy, team conflicts, restructures and increased workloads. In these environments we need to be resilient to help protect us against stress and burnout so we can continue to operate to our best abilities and overcome difficult challenges.

As leaders, it is our job to look after ourselves, so we can look after others. If we also demonstrate great resilience, we can set an example to those around us to follow and offer support and guidance for others to achieve it too.

“When emotionally upset, people cannot remember, attend, learn or make decisions clearly.” - Daniel Goleman

What do we mean by resilience?

If you look up certain definitions of resilience we hear terms like the ability to 'bounce back' and 'roll with the punches.' However, we discussed and thought one of the best ways to describe it was 'the ability to tolerate discomfort.'

On this point, we were all asked to think about a time when we had overcome adversity. And what strategies/tools/support/resources did we draw upon to pull ourselves through. A common theme talked about was around not getting the job you've just applied for and had your heart set on for some time. Looking back, in the moment we often feel negative emotions, we are annoyed with ourselves and disappointed we didn't do as well as we hoped.

To get us through the situation, we talked about relying on friends and family to talk things through, or speaking to colleagues or even taking the plunge to ask for feedback from the interviewer to understand why we didn't get the job. All of these options form our toolkit of resilience. If we reflect back, we now don't feel those negative emotions and see that time as experience or a life lesson we can work on.

This exercise helped give us all confidence that we are all resilient and that we can practice our strategies to be even more resilient when new challenges arise.

The 4 key components of resilience

The Robertson-Cooper Model of Resilience states there are 4 key components to resilience:

Confidence - Having feelings of competence, effectiveness in coping with stressful situations and strong self esteem are inherent to feeling resilient. The frequency in which individuals experience positive and negative emotions is also key.

Social support - Building good relationships with others, seeking support can help individuals cope.

Adaptability - Flexibility and adapting to changing situations which are beyond our control is essential. Resilient individuals are able to cope well with change and their recovery from its impact tends to be quicker.

Purposefulness - Having a clear sense of purpose, clear values, drive and direction help individuals to persist and achieve in the face of setbacks 

Building resilience

Going through multiple challenges and coming through them ready to take on the next one naturally builds our resilience. However, sometimes we might be finding things all too much and not know how we can get through it. Luckily, there are some great methods and techniques to help us build our resilience when times are tough.


When you are feeling things are getting too much and you can't think clearly, mindfulness can be key to focusing the mind and getting you back on track. There are many ways to be mindful:

  • 3 minutes of guided meditation (you can access this through videos on Youtube or download an app).

  • Go for a walk outside and focus on the sound of the birds or the wind blowing through the tress.

  • When washing your hands, focus on the water touching your skin.

All these quick exercises help focus the mind to the moment and help you to not worry about the past or the future. This clears your mind and allows you to focus on your next steps.

Growth mindset

This involves seeing challenges as opportunities, not as threats. When we are presented with challenges we can often get stuck in a fixed mindset, we get fed up of trying (and failing) and think 'I can't do it, never will, so I quit.' However, this often leads to more frustration and we can get overcome with negative emotion.

If we look at growth mindsets, this is when we learn that failing is ok and as long as we are learning something we are developing and getting better, we change our thinking to 'I can do this, it might just take a few attempts.' Many great inventors have lived by this thinking. If Thomas Edison had not had a growth mindset he wouldn't of ever invented the lightbulb. Where many of others may have failed and then stopped trying, Edison's perspective was: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” - Thomas A. Edison

Ways that we can achieve a growth mindset:

  • Reflecting - When something hasn't gone so well, ask yourself what happened, what did I learn and what can I do differently next time. When that next time comes, try something different and reflect again on how it went.

  • Learn something new - It could be as simple as a new recipe or taking up a new sport, this helps remind us of our capacity to grow.


  • Our emotions can define how we respond in situations and although sometimes we don't feel in control of our emotions, being resilient can help us focus on respond most effectively.

  • Resilience is key to help us overcome challenges or complex situations.

  • As leaders, if we are resilient we can not only help others, but help empower others to be resilient too.

  • There are techniques we can use to build our resilience, including reflection, mindfulness and growth mindset thinking.

  • We are in control of our own minds, even if we are not always in control of the situation we are dealing with: “There is always a choice about the way we do our work even if there’s not a choice about the work we do” - Stephen C. Lundin, Fish!: A Proven Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results

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