executive coaching

Building Resilient Leadership


 executive coaching


The last few weeks have been some of the most momentous weeks in British political history and certainly in my lifetime. The true impact of the Brexit vote on British business and our economy, let alone its wider ramifications, is far too early to call with doom-mongers and optimists battling it out for column inches in the press.

The leadership vacuums which resulted were not good news for the country so, whether you love her or loathe her, thank goodness the Tory leadership contest was over quickly and we now have a new Prime Minister in the form of Theresa May.  Meantime the Labour party continues to implode meaning there is no effective opposition and Nigel Farage’s resignation as leader of UKIP leaves a vacuum at the top of that party as well.

Suffice to say that in such unprecedented and uncertain times we need all the resilience we can muster – resilient leaders, resilient businesses, resilient relationships and a resilient economy.

What is Resilience?

So what is resilience and why do we need resilient leadership?

The Oxford dictionary definition of resilience is:

“Able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions”

Thus it’s twofold:

  1. Having the mental toughness to withstand challenging circumstances
  2. Having the emotional reserves and resources to recover quickly when you don’t manage to

I’m wondering what you think about the likes of David Cameron, Boris Johnson and Andrea Leadsom in this regard?  A lack of mental resilience or political expediency!?

Why Do We Need Resilient Leadership?

Even before the drama of Brexit these were challenging times for leaders. With increasing digitisation, globalisation, the advent of disruptive businesses, 24/7 communication, savvier clients, more demanding employees and constant change it’s tough just to keep on top of everything and avoid overwhelm, let alone lead and inspire your people, develop outstanding relationships with your key stakeholders and deliver market-leading performance.

Businesses recognise that without helping leaders to develop mental resilience, many of them will  be subject to the vagaries of stress – the main reason for sickness absence in the UK – which negatively impacts so many aspects of their work:

  • Their concentration
  • Their focus
  • Their motivation
  • Their drive
  • Their energy
  • Their rationality
  • Their judgement
  • Their relationships

The list is endless.

What very few people know is why this is the case.

A Bit of Neuroscience

When we’re stressed our brains flood with arousal chemicals such as noradrenaline and dopamine which are released by neurons in the brain stem.  If we don’t manage to “keep our cool” the adrenal glands then send the stress hormone cortisol into our bloodstream up to our brain and that’s when things become really challenging.

Relatively recent neuroscientific research has shown that this flood of chemicals essentially shuts off the neural pathways to our pre-frontal cortex, the part of our brain we sometimes call the Executive brain where all our higher human powers reside.

Thus we can’t judge the situation appropriately, we can’t analyse or rationalise, we can’t plan or visualise, we can’t even empathise.  Our emotions and survival instincts take over.

It’s why when we’re highly stressed we often don’t recognise ourselves and we certainly don’t like our behaviours but we seem unable to control them. We are literally reverting to baser instincts.

So building mental resilience as a Leader is absolutely fundamental if you are to lead effectively, inspire your people with confidence, drive the business forward, make the right decisions (even when they’re tough ones) and act as a role model.  Not much to ask then!

How To Build Resilience As A Leader

The foundation of great resilience is a strong sense of mental wellbeing. When we feel good about ourselves and our lives we feel like we can conquer the world. We have a wellspring of positive energy and a consistent stream of intrinsic motivation. We feel strong and have a can-do attitude.

But what creates mental wellbeing?

One of the main diagnostic tools I use for assessing Resilience in leaders is the EQ-i 2.0 Leadership Assessment – the most highly validated and most widely used Emotional Intelligence assessment tool in the world.

Alongside a total score for Emotional Intelligence and for 5 key areas including Decision-Making and Stress Tolerance, they also include a score for Mental Wellbeing or Happiness.  This is made up of 4 out of the 15 EQ elements they analyse:

  1. Self-Regard
  2. Self-Actualisation
  3. Optimism
  4. Interpersonal Relationships

So why these four elements?


If you’ve ever suffered from feelings of low self-worth or felt like a fraud in your job then you’ll know how debilitating it can be.  It expends a lot of time and negative energy, it causes away from motivation driven by fear and anxiety and it can make life feel really challenging.  Conversely when you feel good about yourself, when you feel you are worthy of your position, when you know you can do the job and feel confident about it, the world’s your oyster!  Your resilience will be sky high because you know you can cope with anything life throws at you.


I’m working with a client currently who says he’s “stuck halfway up a career ladder” he never wanted to climb in the first place and he can’t find a way back down. When we work in a role that doesn’t fulfil us, when we don’t feel we’re maximising our own potential and when we lack a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives, it can be highly demotivating. Setting goals, having a plan, feeling like we’re learning and growing, knowing we’re adding value and making a contribution all enhance our sense of self-actualisation. We’ve got momentum and drive to achieve, we’re on a roll so we’ll be highly resilient to life’s little setbacks.


This is a fundamental part of resilience and something I focus on a lot in my leadership coaching sessions as it has such a major impact on the team dynamic as well as the individual.  Research around positive psychology proves that having a positive mindset (the old cup half full), focussing on the positives (what’s going well) as well as the problems you need to solve and being optimistic about the future dramatically improves personal resilience and enhances team engagement, productivity and performance.

Interpersonal Relationships

Who would you call at 4am in a crisis?  If you know the answer to that question then research suggests you are one of the people least likely to suffer from depression. Finding it easy to connect with others, build rapport, show empathy and make friends makes life easier and much more fun. It also means you’re likely to have stronger support networks both at work and at home – a very important element of resilience as long as you remember/choose to reach out and use them when you need them rather than battling on alone!

So resilient leadership is about:

  • Building your own self-belief and confidence but also the self-belief and confidence of each and every member of your team through harnessing their strengths, praise and thanks for a job well done and using a Coaching leadership style to empower and entrust them in their work.
  • Ensuring that you and your team have a long-term vision, clearly defined goals, an understanding of how you personally contribute to the greater good and a commitment to continuous personal and professional development.
  • Creating a positive environment and culture where people want to come and work, where they feel valued, inspired, engaged and optimistic about the future.
  • Building great relationships with your team and with all your key stakeholders.  As leaders we are often very task-focussed, we just need to get the job done. But strong interpersonal relationships are the foundation of great businesses.  Create time and space to emerge from behind your computer or your wall to wall meetings and talk to people as fellow human beings.

Focus on these four areas and you will be a truly resilient leader with a fantastically resilient team.

Let’s just hope Theresa May has these resilience-building tools and many more in her armoury as she leads Britain through the uncharted waters of this post-Brexit era.

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