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Six Steps Toward Resilient Leadership

| January 24, 2023

by Laura McCain Patterson

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Laura Patterson, Leadership Coach and Consultant at MOR Associates.  She previously was CIO at the University of Michigan. Laura may be reached at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.]

Last week suggested addressing the positive mental well-being of your employees as an organization strategy.  But what about you? What is your strategy for your own positive mental well-being?

Feeling burned out as the leader? Tired of trying to allow maximum flexibility for every employee while ensuring equity, keeping pace with technology advancements while maintaining stable and reliable services, and establishing achievable commitments on deliverables while also meeting the never-ending requests of clients, users and business partners? 

Resilience is the capacity to meet adversity, setbacks and trauma, and then recover from them in order to lead and live life fully. As we transition from the challenging years of the pandemic into the uncertainty of the work world ahead, resilience is a critical leadership capability.

Leaders often make the mistake of thinking that resilience is a personality trait. They define it as having the grit to “push through” the hardships that occur. Instead, it is important to understand that resilience is a set of learnable skills that you can practice. Here are 6 steps to help you be the best, most resilient leader you can be in 2023:

1. Develop an optimistic, growth mindset. The core of resilience is mindset, so anything you can do to foster positive thinking that is both realistic and flexible is beneficial.  The mindset you adopt absolutely determines how well you respond to what comes your way, how resilient you are, and how rewarding you find your work and your life. But how do you develop an optimistic mindset?

Start a gratitude practice. Studies have shown that writing about things you are grateful for each day changes your brain and results in a more optimistic outlook. Keep a journal by writing three things you are grateful for each day for 4 weeks. You will train your brain to look for the positives in challenging situations rather than dwelling on the negatives. After the first four weeks, continue for 12 more weeks. Then your practice will be a habit that stays with you.

Another useful skill is managing self-talk. In difficult situations, listen carefully to the negative things you are telling yourself. Summarize what is happening then ask yourself (and colleagues) how you could be thinking about the situation differently, in ways that are more hopeful yet still are rational and believable. By challenging negative self-talk and replacing pessimistic thoughts with positive ones, you can learn to become more optimistic.

 2. Continuously reflect and assess. Reflection is the foundation of learning and growth. Reflect on what is causing stress in your life and how you are responding. Stress may manifest itself in physical symptoms of exhaustion and health issues. Intellectual stress reactions include diminished creativity and negative thinking. People who experience social stress reactions tend to stop seeing friends and returning phone calls. People who endure spiritual stress lose a sense of meaning and purpose. To enhance resilience, leaders need to identify the coping mechanisms that allow them to relieve tension and regain positive energy. Reflecting on what is negative, what is positive, and what could be better will guide a solution-oriented mindset.

3. Rely on others. Periodically take a look at your personal network and invest in keeping it broad and healthy. Leaders need a trust and friends network to seek advice and receive candid feedback. At times, the help of friends may not be enough. When those times occur, seek the help of mental health experts. Resilience is the capacity to meet challenges, it is not the ability to “push through” on your own. Sometimes, that capacity comes from others, colleagues, friends, or mental health experts.

4. Invest in yourself. Autonomy and self-determination strengthen an individual’s sense of resiliency. Make this your best career-building year yet. An important part of loving your career is pursuing your dreams. Decide what you want and go for it, whether that means staying put even as others are leaving or changing jobs or industries. This is a great time to pursue a long-held dream, make a career shift, and/or ask for flexibility and benefits that may have been unrealistic a couple years ago. As many people are reconsidering their priorities and leaving jobs they no longer love, opportunities are opening that may have been closed in the past.

Accept that anything you want to have happen will come from your own efforts. Hopefully, you have a great boss and sponsors who are helping you grow, but it’s up to you to actively create those advocates and develop your career plan. The mindset that you are in charge of generating your own opportunities is a key to resilience and happiness in your career.

5.  Accept that your life and your work are on the same team. The phrase “work-life balance” or the more popular “life-work” balance suggests that work and personal life are opposite ends of the spectrum and are in competition with each other. Whether you put the word “work” or “life” first, the phrase doesn’t reflect the reality of the post-pandemic world of work. Your work and your life are not on opposing teams. They are on the same team, Team YOU. A key to resilience may be work-life integration. Pursuing your passions outside of work gives you energy and enthusiasm for work, making you a better leader. Develop a model that gives you time outside of work while you also deliver to your goals at work. Think of work and personal life as equally important.

6.  Feed your joy. At a recent MOR workshop each person shared what brings them joy.  At the conclusion, many reported that they were going to commit to spending more time doing what brings them joy. Building resilience is essential but remember that the end goal is to find joy in life. To this end, it is useful to examine the combination of our organizational roles, professional growth and personal roles to ensure that the different aspects of our identities are in balance so that we experience the joy of living.

Peggy Huston, a MOR colleague, wrote the following on resilience,  “I thought of a blade of grass that lies down in the storm as the wind and rain beats it down and then rises up again when the sun comes out. Is it its ability to endure the “bad” weather that makes it resilient? Or is it its ability to allow the sunshine in?  Perhaps, it’s both.” The mindset you adopt and the practices you put into place influence how well you respond to what comes your way, how resilient you are, and how rewarding you find your work and your life. As you think about what 2023 may bring, you can adopt a positive, open mindset and develop your personal strategy for making it your best year yet.


This Week’s Survey

Which step of resilience in leadership do you feel is most important for you personally to do more?

From Last Week

Last week we asked how pervasive you feel mental health concerns are in your organization:

  • 16% said a big concern
  • 46% said a concern
  • 32% said only a small concern
  • 6% said not at all a concern

An overwhelming 94% of us identified mental health as some form of concern in our organizations.  We hope the steps outlined both last week and this week are helpful as you consider ways to address this need both in terms of an overall organizational strategy as well as individually for you.  When concerns of mental health preoccupy our minds, it negatively impacts our individual wellness as well as our bandwidth for impactfully advancing the goals of our organization.  By taking care of ourselves and others, we enable individual wellness as well as creating the conditions to help maximize the impact and contributions of everyone in our organizations.


Knox, Aliza.  Five Resolutions to Build Resilience and Rise and Thrive in 2022.  Forbes, December 30, 2021. 5 Resolutions to Build Resilience 

Overby, Stephen. Change management: 9 ways to build resilient teams. The Enterprisers Project, November 15, 2021.
Change management: 9 ways to build resilient teams | The Enterprisers Project

King, Danielle & McSpedon, Megan.  What Leaders Get Wrong about Resilience. Harvard Business Review, June 17, 2020.