Developing Resilience

… a core concept in Leadership Skills and Atlas 109

spring2Concept description

Merriam-Webster defines resilience as the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change and developing resilience is important for effective self management.

All successful people occasionally fail. The MindTools article on developing resilience (reference below) cites Thomas Edison’s thousands of failed prototypes before getting an incandescent bulb that worked. The article cites three elements proposed by psychologist Susan Kobasa as being essential to resilience:

  • Challenge – Resilient people view a difficulty as a challenge, not as a paralyzing event. They look at their failures and mistakes as lessons to be learned from, and as opportunities for growth. They don’t view them as a negative reflection on their abilities or self-worth.
  • Commitment – Resilient people are committed to their lives and their goals, and they have a compelling reason to get out of bed in the morning. Commitment isn’t just restricted to their work – they commit to their relationships, their friendships, the causes they care about, and their religious or spiritual beliefs.
  • Personal Control – Resilient people spend their time and energy focusing on situations and events that they have control over. Because they put their efforts where they can have the most impact, they feel empowered and confident. Those who spend time worrying about uncontrollable events can often feel lost, helpless, and powerless to take action.

The article also cites Cal Crow’s suggestions for further attributes common in resilient people:

  • Resilient people have a positive image of the future. That is, they maintain a positive outlook, and envision brighter days ahead.
  • Resilient people have solid goals, and a desire to achieve those goals.
  • Resilient people are empathetic and compassionate, however, they don’t waste time worrying what others think of them. They maintain healthy relationships, but don’t bow to peer pressure.
  • Resilient people never think of themselves as victims – they focus their time and energy on changing the things that they have control over.

MindTools has a self-survey at, accessed 23 February 2016.

David Brooks (reference below) argues that to be resilient people need a purpose:

“People are much stronger than they think they are when in pursuit of their telos, their purpose for living. As Nietzsche put it, ‘He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.’

“In short, emotional fragility is not only caused by overprotective parenting. It’s also caused by anything that makes it harder for people to find their telos. It’s caused by the culture of modern psychology, which sometimes tries to talk about psychological traits in isolation from moral purposes. It’s caused by the ethos of the modern university, which in the name of “critical thinking” encourages students to be detached and corrosively skeptical. It’s caused by the status code of modern meritocracy, which encourages people to pursue success symbols that they don’t actually desire.

“If you really want people to be tough, make them idealistic for some cause, make them tender for some other person, make them committed to some worldview that puts today’s temporary pain in the context of a larger hope.”

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, David Kopans (reference below) recommends keeping a record of the actions and interactions that produce a sense of positivity and remind oneself of them:

“…building individual resilience requires regular review of positivity currency data. This review not only enables you to glean insights and take corrective actions, but also to boost your resilience by simply increasing your exposure to positive interactions and expressions of gratitude.

“Even if you don’t analyze your positivity currency data deeply like a Wall Street quant, just exposing yourself to it on a regular basis will make you more resilient. So find a regular time to celebrate and reflect on your positivity currency – I do it while I wait for my morning coffee. Make it a habit to simply scan your positivity data and your level of resilience – that of your friends, family, and co-workers – will rise.”


The MindTools Editorial Team, Developing Resilience – Overcoming and Growing From Setbacks, at, accessed 23 February 2016.

David Brooks (2016), Making Modern Toughness, New York Times, 30 August 2016, at, accessed 30 August 2016.

David Kopans (2016), How to Evaluate, Manage, and Strengthen Your Resilience, Harvard Business Review, 14 June 2016, at, accessed 30 August 2016.

Atlas topic and subject

Managing Oneself (core topic) in Leadership Skills.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 30 August 2016.

Image:, at, accessed 23 February 2016.