How to build resilience as a leader

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How to build resilience as a leader

Posted by: Phil Kelly
Category: Articles
Resilience training - Commonwealth Games Leadership, 2022
Delivering Leadership and resilience training to the Commonwealth Games Management teams, 2022

Resilience is the capacity to not only endure great challenges but get stronger in the midst of them,” – Harvard Business School Professor Nancy Koehn


Resilience is a quality that can positively impact our professional and personal endeavours. People who possess high levels of resilience not only have the mental fortitude to overcome inevitable obstacles but also tend to thrive when faced with adversity. It is an especially useful attribute for navigating the complexities of the workplace and striving towards personal excellence.

We don’t like to think about failure. We are often actively encouraged to focus on ‘the positive’ – to think about our wins and our successes. However, failure is very much a fact of life, especially when it comes to business or competition. Constantly changing environments, evolving targets, and moving goalposts make setbacks a reality.

But, how we deal with these setbacks is often game-changing. In the worlds of sports and business, resilience is often what sets exceptional performers apart from good ones. Resilience is a critical quality that enables individuals to respond to shifting circumstances, make sound decisions despite pressure, and maintain their focus on long-term goals. Within a workplace, resilient leaders help foster a positive work environment and encourage their teams to tackle new challenges with self-assurance.

Building Resilience:
The good news is anyone can develop their resilience. In fact, mental health experts often describe resilience as a muscle; building it takes time and training—just like improving one’s physical performance. It is one of the areas of focus we, as performance and leadership consultants, focus on specifically in our training programmes.

In 2022, we were commissioned to deliver a bespoke leadership programme by UK sport to prepare team leaders and their management for the pressures of leading their respective home nations in the commonwealth games. Utilising face-to-face training and workshops, online technologies and even the great outdoors to develop resilience and self-awareness, the training culminated in a multi-day exercise based on the experiences and principles of global search and rescue teams.

Our training focused on the value of becoming more resilient, and how that resilience can be supported by forward planning. Having a solid action plan in place can make it much easier to overcome obstacles and challenges when they arise.

The Value of Training Resilience for Leaders: 
Resilient leaders act quickly. They focus on planning the best response when adversity strikes, instead of analysing the cause. They understand the scope of the crisis and what they can control. Resilience is the capability to adapt, bounce back, and lead efficiently even in the face of uncertainty and change. It involves maintaining composure, making sound decisions, and inspiring confidence in a team during challenging situations. A resilient leader may still experience stress or setbacks, but they possess the skills to manage them constructively.

Within sports, the ability to recover from defeats, injuries, or training setbacks is often what drives athletes to peak performance. Resilient athletes remain focused, disciplined, and determined, even in the face of intense competition. They recognise that setbacks are an inevitable part of the journey and see them as opportunities to improve their skills and mental toughness.

So, where do you begin?

The American Psychological Association identify four behavioural components—connection, wellness, healthy thinking, and meaning— that, with conscious attention, can enhance someone’s resilience. Strengthening one component often positively impacts the others, creating a holistic approach to building mental and emotional fortitude. Focusing on these components can be a good starting point:

Good social connections provide emotional support and a network of people to turn to during challenging times, which can improve resilience. To build positive connections with colleagues, engage in open communication, actively listen, and schedule meetups when possible. Strong relationships create a supportive work environment.

Some people may only pay attention to their wellness outside of work, but it is highly deserving of focus whilst on the clock! Good physical health is key to mental resilience against stress and adversity. Prioritise your mental health with mindfulness, meditation, and professional support and enhance your emotional resilience and coping skills. Develop effective time management skills by prioritising tasks, setting realistic deadlines, and allocating time for breaks. Mindfulness practices like deep breathing, short meditation breaks, or mindful walks can help manage stress and improve focus.

Healthy Thinking:
Healthy thinking at work involves developing a positive and flexible mindset, managing stress, confronting negative thoughts, and fostering resilience. Adopt a problem-solving mindset and focus on finding solutions. Celebrate small victories to establish a pattern of acknowledging success and boost morale.

Meaning is the purpose, values, and beliefs that guide individuals. It provides motivation and resilience during tough times by setting meaningful goals and finding purpose in everyday activities. Engaging in meaningful work, or a hobby, can create resilience by providing fulfilment and connection to something greater. Investing in your professional development is an ideal way to drive a sense of meaning. Acquiring new skills and knowledge can boost your confidence and adaptability in the workplace, whilst feeling inspired by learning new things encourages positive feelings.

‘Resilience is the antidote to complacency. It’s the mindset that allows you to push beyond your limits and achieve greatness’ David Goggins, ultra-endurance athlete.


It is important to understand that feeling less resilient is not a sign of weakness. Everyone has periods of feeling tested, and they face different types of pressures and worries. It is worth acknowledging when and why we are struggling. Ignoring our emotions reduces our ability to concentrate. Remember to recognise where you need support and ask for it, especially when you are in a leadership position.

Resilient leaders in business foster innovation and long-term success. Embracing resilience is not just a choice; it is a transformative journey towards building a robust and enduring foundation for success.


At Pro-Noctis, we specialise in helping people get the best out of themselves and their teams. If you would like to find out more about how we can help you improve performance – personally, or professionally – get in touch for a free consultation. 

Author: Phil Kelly
An award-winning business owner and TED presenter, Phil lives and breaths performance. Having designed and delivered successful training packages across various industries worldwide, he now spends most of his time within business development and consulting. Phil Kelly