How can leaders develop resilience in their followers or teams?

Developing resilience


Resilience is about the ability to bounce back when you ‘fail’ or events go ‘wrong’. Often this is a perception rather than a fact because the outcome or result will be self-assessed, relative to other people’s achievements, and/or relative to one’s own or other people’s perception of success.

To build resilience you have to experience ‘failure’ and events or outcomes that go ‘wrong’, and develop coping mechanisms for moving on. As children, and adults, we are often told that we must ‘learn from our mistakes’. This negative language does not help. In particular, it does not help those who are risk averse or who do not have support, as they will be less inclined to step outside of their comfort zone and to try again for fear of ‘failing’. And yet, it is only through the iterative process of applying what we have learnt from one situation to another that we develop those essential coping mechanisms for moving on. We only truly ‘learn’ from our experiences when we have the opportunity to try again.

Resilience implies that you have the ability to ‘bounce back’ time and time again. That’s not always easy. Why? Because we are human and everyone has their breaking point. In addition, situations (and people) are complex, and resilience in one situation may not translate into resilience in another. Resilience cannot be achieved through learning or developing coping strategies overnight. It is something that you build upon and have to adapt to different situations.

Coping mechanisms

Coping mechanisms vary hugely from one individual to another. Some people have, what appears to be, huge inner strength to cope with the most adverse events whilst others break down in situations that, on the surface, appear to others as trivial. Some people cope by talking to or gaining support from other people, whilst others turn to relaxation, physical activity or humour. In addition, people tend to adopt multiple and different coping strategies depending upon the situation, and number of connected and/or completely independent situations, they are coping with at any one time.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to ‘coping’ and that is why it is difficult to develop and replicate programmes to achieve the specific outcome of building resilience. However, that does not mean that we should not try.

With the above in mind, the key to developing resilience is two-fold: it is about providing a series of learning opportunities in conjunction with a framework of support that is tailored to the situation and the individual.

How I lead

As a leader, and to practice what I preach, I need to step outside of my own comfort zone to develop my own resilience, and I need to make sure that I have the support that I need to do that. Nobody is going to do that for me. Having said that, I do have a co-director, we work as a team and we support each other, and I firmly believe that sharing and delegating responsibility throughout an organisation in a managed and supportive way is imperative to a well-run business. In line with that, we encourage our team to take part in and to be responsible for helping to develop and shape their own opportunities and support frameworks but, as their leaders, we then need to make it happen.

Making it happen

Making it happen is easier said than done. Firstly, you have the constraints of time and money; a business has to break even otherwise there is no business, so you may not have the luxury of implementing the level of best practice that you desire. Secondly, you may think that you’re practising what you preach, but are you? The best way to check is to ask for feedback; then listen, respect the opinion of others and learn.

In addition, making it happen is an on-going task because situations and people’s needs change over time, and what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow. Learning is as much about looking forward and planning ahead as it is looking back; you need to apply what you’ve learnt to have a chance of making change happen in a positive direction.

Lastly, given that everyone has a breaking point, what are we trying to achieve? Are we trying to encourage everyone to be super human in their abilities to cope with multiple complex situations and pressures? If the answer is no, then surely we are asking the wrong question and rather than “How can leaders develop resilience in their followers or teams?” perhaps we should be asking the question, “How can leaders help their followers or teams reach their full potential?”

In conclusion, my viewpoint is that resilience should not be seen as a goal but as a by-product of enabling teams to reach their full potential. The same is true for building a business. Find ways and means to help a business reach its full potential and as a result you will have a business that is naturally more resilient than most.

The view of our HR team

Building resilience means overcoming the fear of failure, a deep-seated and universal fear that manifests early on in childhood. Even in very young children, it’s possible to observe a sense of not wanting to disappoint or be ridiculed by others if they get things wrong. Fortunately, they are less likely to dwell on things than adults in the same situation. But as we all know, the most successful people in the world have all had failures and set-backs. The path to glory is filled with pot-holes and it’s not the pot-holes themselves, but the way in which we navigate them that’s important: this is how we build coping strategies so that we learn that we cannot just survive, but also thrive after something goes wrong.

There is a huge pressure for perfection which fans the fear of failure. Our instant update culture, social media, airbrushed images and celebrity heroes do nothing to help this. If you’re aiming for perfection, then good doesn’t cut it which means that people may avoid taking opportunities because with the intense competition of that activity, career or pursuit, they cannot possibly be the best or achieve perfection. Rather than taking a chance that they may or may not succeed, they are removing the risk by only attempting things that they know they will do well in. Every business venture has an element of risk, so by being risk averse you limit your chances of success – or fulfilment.

It is interesting to see so many organisations building resilience in their workforces, offering training and coaching programs to deal with set-backs and regain the energy and commitment to try again. And yet, in some cases, these same organisations create cultures that, in practice, do little to encourage their people to try new skills, take on new challenges, take the occasional calculated risk or use initiative, for fear of reprisal or consequence. Delia makes a great point above that resilience is a by-product of many factors; amongst others, an enabling culture, the confidence one derives from a breadth of experiences, and the security of a strong network. It’s really about supporting people so that they don’t reach breaking point, rather than teaching them how to handle it if they do.

Our supportive framework at Business Clan

Business Clan is a great example of building a supportive framework which empowers its employees to take risks and push their own boundaries in their work. There’s no blame culture or finger pointing if something goes wrong, it’s viewed as an opportunity to make things even better for the future. There is respect and empathy, a mutual understanding that we all have a lot of plates spinning in our lives. Work is allocated through a consultative approach which gauges the capacity and skill sets of team members. There are busy times and there are deadlines, but they are dealt with in an adult and collaborative way. Above all the team has flexibility to deliver their best, so that they are not pushed to breaking point by strict office hours or set working patterns. It’s a progressive approach to delivering highly sought after skill sets and service standards to our clients and one which has been recognised by numerous prestigious industry awards, including FSB London Employer of the Year.

Get in touch if you would like some help on enabling your team to reach their full potential and to find out more about our award-winning working culture here at Business Clan.

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