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In a business world that is increasingly volatile, it’s often said that  leaders need resilience. But what is that? The dictionary definition refers to an ability to spring back into shape, or recover from difficulties, and in psychology literature, we see resilience used to refer to children who continue to thrive in spite of unfavourable home conditions. In business life, we need resilience to stress factors that might be acute, like redundancy; or chronic, like continual performance pressure.

We need coping skills to avoid harm from stress factors. However, resilience and the stressors that create the need for it are surely necessary requirements for personal and professional growth. Coping with and overcoming stressors builds and hones our repertoire of skills and functional behaviours. We discover hidden resources and find out what our priorities and values really are. Taleb, when talking about robustness (his concept of resilience) praises the modern stoic sage who can “transform fear into prudence, pain into information, mistakes into initiation and desire into undertaking.”

When I’m working with clients on resilience issues I like to move between three modules: looking out; looking in; and action.

Looking out

It’s good to talk, and exploring what’s happening with a coach, who is someone outside of the issue causing the stress is really useful. You can vent and discuss things frankly without getting caught up in vested interests or hierarchy. The aim is to get to a stage of seeing what is really there and accepting it as “it is what it is” (see my earlier blog on this.) Then by taking different perspectives on the situation, it’s possible to find positive meaning in it. Taking inspiration form Taleb as above or Nietsche who said “that which does not kill me makes me stronger”, there is always something positive to be taken from any situation. You just have to find it.

Looking in

We look at the situation and how it fits into your life story – this is a good opportunity to examine how you talk to yourself about yourself. You can raise your awareness of your thoughts, perhaps identifying and dealing with a harsh internal critic, or increasing awareness of skills. You can focus on self-care; are you getting enough sleep, enough downtime, are you taking care of your important relationships? You can gather your resources; internally – your capabilities, courage and flexibility, and externally – the people and things you have around you to help, in order to get ready to act.


Armed with your new perspectives on the situation and on yourself, you’re ready to act. You can take ownership of the situation, recognising what you can change and what you can’t. You can use your creativity to find smart alternative solutions, choose one, make your plans and tenaciously stick with making the change you choose.


Fellini said, “All art is autobiographical. The pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.” Our life-work and the stories we tell ourselves is art too. And stories need some “grit” in them to give the story depth. With some care and reflection, we can embrace resilience – and the causes of it.