Resilience in Leadership: Why & How to Improve your Bounce-Back Ability

We all know that we can’t expect to be successful without experiencing some setbacks. But what does it take to bounce back? That’s what we’ll discuss in this article: Resilience in leadership and how to create the ability to bounce back from setbacks.

What is Resilience?

According to the dictionary definition of resilience, it is the ability to recover quickly from difficulties. Having resilience in leadership – that bounce-back ability is an essential trait.

Get it right and you’ll develop a culture of continuous improvement, where your employees welcome setbacks because they are an important part of learning.

After all, if you go back to mankind’s history of successes and awe-inspiring inventions, quite possibly all of them are preceded by failure. In fact, failure is the secret to success. Without it, we don’t know what to do right next time, in order to achieve success.

The problem is that as adults, we become sensitive to setbacks. We try once and if it doesn’t work, we give up. As a leader, it’s essential that you adopt a different paradigm – and that is to keep going until you achieve your goal.

That’s resilience. Forbes wrote an excellent article on the secret of success and why failure is such an important thing to embrace.

Resilience and Leadership

Resilience can be thought of as a driver to becoming a successful level 5 leader.

A report by Better Up titled, ‘Resilience in an Age of Uncertainty,’ explains resilience to be  “both our ability to emerge from struggle without harm and also describes the potential for that struggle to catalyze growth.”

Resilient leadership is an outcome of a vital leadership attribute that is “grit.” Grit is the courage and strength of the character of a leader. A gritty leader remains unfazed by the setbacks and failures and thus fuels the resilience in their persona.

Becoming a resilient leader depends a lot on perseverance and mindset.

Handling stress in a positive manner can not be achieved in one go, but focusing on being positive and tackling challenges because they are a natural part of growth and development is the way to change a restrictive mindset.

Interestingly, being a resilient leader can help improve productivity, too. According to BetterUp researchers, resilient leaders affect their teams with a “multiplier effect,” which benefits the organisation and its employees.

Quite simply, employees get better at bouncing back and fixing problems the more they are exposed to challenges.

With each ‘bounce back’ and challenge overcome, employee satisfaction and engagement is improved, as well as processes and performance.

The report goes on to state that teams who have highly resilient leaders are more innovative, agile and delivered better than those with leaders with low resilience.

The Importance of Resilient Leadership

Here are 4 key outputs of a resilient leader:

Resilience Transforms Challenges into Successes 

Challenges and difficult situations are inevitable but under resilient leadership, such stressful situations can become an instrument of success too.  

A resilient leader perceives the crisis as an opportunity, stays upbeat and sets their team about to overcome the challenge in a structured and logical way. The leader helps to motivate the teams not to lose hope, but keep striving forward under their guidance and support.

It Improves Decision-Making Skills

Being exposed to challenges allows a leader to flex their decision-making skills. If you rarely make decisions, then you’re less likely to be as efficient as someone that is constantly exposed to making decisions for the benefit of the team.

The more you encounter challenges and have to work your way through them, the more you gain vital experience in dealing with tough situations and being able to keep your head when challenges arise.

Makes People Adaptable to Change

As the saying goes, “change is the only constant.” Resilience assimilates ongoing change while empowering leaders and their teams with the will and skill to fight back.

A pessimist thinks that he is a realist, and says ‘this won’t work’. But an optimist thinks that something will work, and says ‘why not?’

This ‘why not’ mindset is the route to innovation and creativity. Exposing teams to failure and leading them through, by taking the ‘why not’ route, helps change pessimists to optimists through the act of successfully going through this process themselves.

It Builds Creativity and Innovation

Resilience, the ability to withstand and recover from difficult times in life or work, is a key component of creativity. With more people than ever before confronting obstacles like financial distress and physical illness on top of their daily lives – resilience becomes even more important for innovation to thrive.

There is a growing body of research, which indicates a link between overcoming adversity and being more resilient later on in life.

This exposure could mean that those exposed to considerable adversity, find it easier to think creatively when faced with difficult problems. Having this skill allows people to become innovative and creative in tough situations.

Qualities of Resilient leaders

We are all resilient in our own ways, but do you know what it takes to be a super-resilient leader? To stand up again and again after being knocked down by circumstances? Here are some qualities that help create a super-resilient person and team.

Self Confidence

A resilient leader has confidence in his/her competencies. Their capability to recognise and examine their self-belief strengthens them emotionally to overcome a crisis. The confidence of leaders sets a positive example for their subordinates to follow in difficult times.

Purpose Oriented Direction

Resilient leaders have a continuous focus and they are driven by purpose. This makes them well prepared for events and circumstances that are not predicted. Sticking to the goals and overcoming the come what may, is an important facet of a resilient and influential leader. This helps keep them and their teams moving forward, rather than giving up, whining that a goal can’t be met.

Emotionally Intelligent

The attribute of resilience is exhibited by emotionally intelligent leaders. Emotional intelligence enables leaders to manage their emotions in adverse circumstances and challenging situations at the workplace.

This intelligence helps leaders to curb destructive personality patterns. This benefits them and the teams they lead, enable people to keep their heads and work with levelled thinking in stressful situations.


Agility as a resilient leadership competency equips the leaders to sense the upcoming changes and challenges and deal with them by directing resources, capabilities and knowledge in a flexible manner. Also, it helps to capitalise on situational learning, to empower the employees to seize the challenges as opportunities to upskill and learn. 


Being ingenious means being clever, original and innovative. Resilient leaders are ingenious as they have multiple options to work out in a critical situation. The ingenuity helps them apply new ideas with clarity and readiness to change, which is endowed upon by resilience. 

A resilient leader knows that when faced with an extremely tough challenge, they change the angle of attack and try to find a new way of overcoming something.

How Resilient Are You?

Take our quick test to see how resilient you are as a leader:

  1. I am able to find positive opportunities in any situation;
  2. I can take on whatever comes my way;
  3. When faced with a difficult problem, I tend to reflect humorously and often see the funny side of things;
  4. Coping with stress strengthens me;
  5. I have a knack for turning bad situations into good ones;
  6. I believe in my abilities, even in the face of adversity;
  7. Pressure brings out the best in me;
  8. I am confident in my abilities and I do not easily give up;
  9. I’ve often considered myself a strong person when it comes to dealing with life’s challenges and difficulties;
  10. I can handle difficult feelings like sadness, fear, and anger.
ItemQuestionYes /No
1I am able to find positive opportunities in any situation
2I can take on whatever comes my way
3When faced with a difficult problem, I tend to reflect humorously and often see the funny side of things
4Coping with stress strengthens me
5I have a knack for turning bad situations into good ones
6I believe in my abilities, even in the face of adversity
7Pressure brings out the best in me
8I am confident in my abilities and I do not easily give up
9I’ve often considered myself a strong person when it comes to dealing with life’s challenges and difficulties
10I can handle difficult feelings like sadness, fear, and anger
  • If you had 8 no answers or more, then you’re more of a brittle leader. You tend to fold under pressure. There’s a lot of work to be done to make you a resilient leader. Start by focusing on changing your mindset and embracing challenges, rather than seeing them as a bad thing. Follow our 4 R’s to resilliance below, and work on your emotional intelligence skills too;
  • If you got from 4 to 7 no answers, you’re a developing leader. There’s still things you can do to improve your resilience, so keep working on how you react to set backs;
  • If you got 0 to 3 no answers, then you’re a resilient leader. Well done. It looks like you manage setbacks well. Keep leading your teams through adversity and you’ll develop a continuous improvement culture.

4 Rs to Practice Resilience

No matter how many times you’ve failed or how painful those failures are, it’s what you do after that counts.

How do you handle your failures? Do you wallow in self-pity, allowing those negative thoughts to consume you or do you pick yourself back up and give it another try?

That is what separates greatness from mediocrity.

It is easy to lead a quiet, uneventful life that passes by unnoticed – To avoid taking any risks and instead be content with mediocrity.

That might make you feel safe from the fear of failure – but it is not living.

JK Rowling once said, “It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

Don’t be discouraged by failure or other setbacks. If you fall down, get up again.

Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

So, in order to be a successful leader and embody resilience in leadership, you must look at setbacks as a way to learn. To try something new. Here are 4 R’s to help enforce this mindset with you and your team.


Bounceback. It’s only defeat if you don’t get up from the setback. Think of it differently, encountering a setback sets us up for future victory.

We have learned something more about the problem than we did this morning or yesterday. It’s the reason Thomas Eddison developed the light bulb. He was famously quoted as saying that he found 10,000 ways how not to create the light bulb before he cracked it.


Once you’re back on your feet, go again, but try to reframe the problem. In his excellent book called, “What’s Your Problem,” Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg, explains the simple process of overcoming problems.

He uses the term, “Reframing.” It’s the point before you analyse why something happened. Reframing means examining the problem from multiple perspectives to broaden your thinking.

A crucial question for successful reframing is, “did we choose the right problem to solve?”

Once we’ve found the right problem, we can set about to improve it.

Feel Inspired has a good introductory article on how to get started reframing problems.


Once you’ve identified the right problem, try something new on a small scale to see if things improve. Follow the scientific approach to problem-solving. That is the Plan-do-check-act method.

Plan – Investigate the problem and identify a potential idea to overcome it

Do – Run a small scale trial to see if it works

Check – As you run the trial, observe and analyse the results – Did it work?

Act – If it worked, then implement the action on a larger scale. If it didn’t work, return to the planning stage and try something else.


Be courageous. Encourage risk-taking and trial and error. Being courageous is the first step to win over an adversary. The capability to be prepared to face any difficult situation fuels positivity and can help you and your team stay optimistic during tough times.

It’s easier to do this with a clear vision and goal to work towards. Ensure your team are clear in what they are trying to achieve and give them the “why” that good objectives provide.