Schedule Conversation

Rise Above Adversity: Empower Yourself with Leadership Resilience Skills

Leadership Articles | Achieving Success | Rise Above Adversity: Empower Yourself with Leadership Resilience Skills

by | May 28, 2024

Share This Article

In coaching hundreds of leaders, few come into a coaching session wanting to build resilience. Yet, their goals reflect that underlying need. They may say they want to:

  • Be free of the critical voice inside my head
  • Feel less consumed by what others think of me
  • Navigate difficulties with my team or with a difficult coworker
  • Have the difficult conversation I’ve been avoiding
  • speak up with confidence and have a voice in meetings
  • Be able to move past challenging life experiences in my life that have me feeling stuck

What is Resilience?

Resilience helps us bounce back and thrive in adversity Resilience helps us bounce back and thrive in adversity

Resilience is that ability to bounce forward in adversity. To thrive and not just survive in the midst of challenge or adversity. Why not bounce back? Because hard things change us and if we allow it, they refine us into a better version of ourselves. We can choose to build resilience.

As someone who has weathered the loss of a son to suicide, led interventions into a loved one’s addiction, overcame marital difficulties, raised a special needs child and moved long-distance eight times, I’ve learned first hand how to incorporate resilient practices into my life – to choose resilience. 

Building Resilience

I’ve slowly added to my resilience toolkit through life’s challenges. We can develop resilience through what we choose to focus our time and attention on. Here are some resilience practices as you seek to manage stress amidst both bigger and everyday challenges :

Mindset Matters

What you tell yourself about you, others and your circumstances makes all the difference. This in turn affects your emotional resilience and give you a more hopeful outlook. Resilient people pay attention to what they are thinking as it will drive their feelings and their responses in challenges. We can develop a resilient mindset. That includes:

Embrace gratitude and curiosity

If you quickly judge things negatively, you will tend to operate from a place of “not enough”. While not advocating toxic positivity, we can shift toward curiosity, and gratitude. Research shows that gratitude positively rewires our brain. I have a notebook by my bedside that I record three things in every night that I’m grateful for.

See a purpose in your experience

Finding a sense of purpose in the hard can bring meaning to our situation. Helping others who are in challenges I have faced gives purpose to the pain. I have now had the hard and humbling privilege of walking alongside dozens of people who have lost loved ones to suicide. As I sit with someone in that place of pain, I realize that I’m only able to be there because I know first-hand what it feels like. I can offer hope and help in a way that others may not be able to…because I’ve experienced the depths of their pain and because I’ve chosen resilience as a response.

Try on a reframe

Choose to see a situation from a different perspective Choose to see a situation from a different perspective

When things go wrong, we can often shift to worst-case scenario thoughts or allow ourselves to feel the threat of a problem. Reframing our perspective from seeing the challenge to instead viewing the opportunity can shift our focus and energy. Shirzad Chamine, best-selling author of Positive Intelligence,  encourages us to ask the question “How can I turn this situation into a gift or opportunity?” This is similar to the growth mindset that Carol Dweck writes about. Instead of focusing on how hard the problem is and how I don’t know how to handle it, I can choose a growth mindset on how I can learn, and on what might be possible amidst this challenge.

Remember Your Strengths

Understanding and appreciating our strengths helps us to focus on what we have to deal with the situation instead of what we don’t. Most of us go through life thinking more about our weaknesses than we do about our strengths. Gallup’s research tells us that we are more engaged and productive when we operate in our strengths. Don’t know yours? Take a well-validated strengths assessment (CliftonStrengths or the free VIA) or survey a handful of trusted friends or colleagues.

Rehearse your strengths

Feel overwhelmed? Consider how to use one of your strengths in a current challenge. For example, one of my strengths is being a Learner. I’m energized to learn about new things (like resilient practices). Before a new situation, I’ll reflect on what I might learn which in turn focuses my attention on learning and growth. Rehearsing my strengths in advance of a situation calms the negative emotions and helps me set strength-based, realistic goals for that new situation.

Self-Care 101: Moving and Resting

We are often disconnected from our bodies and what they need. Physical activity creates positive neurochemical release. Research shows that physical activity grows resilience. Before I ran my first 5K, I found a “Couch to 5K” running plan that gradually led me to increase distance I walked and then ran until I could do the unthinkable, run a 5 K, and then later triathlons and half-marathons. Moving more and seeing myself accomplish tough goals helped me develop resilience as I went onto compete in half marathons, triathlons and long-distance cycling events.

Slowing down

Other times, we need to slow down, breathe deeply and push pause on the crazy of life. Spending time doing what brings you joy and energy can fuel resilience. Maybe it’s giving yourself permission to have a pajama day.

What’s one self-care practice for you today?

Our physical health and mental health are interconnected. Prioritizing healthy habits and resilient practices can help us move forward and strengthen our well-being. What’s one self-care practice you could spend just a few minutes on today? Going on a walk? Getting to bed 30 minutes earlier? Scheduling time for yourself?

Making time for self care enhances well being Making time for self care enhances well being

Personally, my focus has been on getting better sleep. I’ve made slight shifts to my sleep schedule and sleep environment which helps me get enough sleep and wake up feeling more equipped to handle stress and stay hopeful in the midst of challenging times.

Stay Connected

Many things seem more challenging when we face them alone. Resilient people prioritize connection with others. Allow space for safe, healthy relationships in your life – people to walk alongside you without judgement. Look around for someone who accepts you as you are. They aren’t trying to change you, yet they inspire you to your best.  What group of people could you connect with?

Look around

It could be a church or synagogue, a recreational group or others who share your interests.  Think about what you enjoy or might be curious to try. Community groups and local organizations can help you develop new support systems. Finding a strong support network can help you feel less overwhelmed.

Support networks help us borrow resilience from others in tough times Support networks help us borrow resilience from others in tough times

Choose your network with care

When our son passed, many people offered their suggestions on what to do although they had not experienced the magnitude of loss. Some difficult relationships offered little comfort and instead were invasively curious without thought for how their probing questions might land. They weren’t safe people. I turned instead to people who could be with me, without trying to solve my problems yet cared enough to point me to sources of strength and hope. Those strong relationships helped to sustain me in the midst of emotional pain.

Be appropriately vulnerable

Inviting others into our life requires that we let down the mask of perfection, instead being appropriately vulnerable. As Brene Brown famously says, “Vulnerability fuels connection”. If we insist on presenting the illusion that all is well, it will create less connection with others, not more. When people asked me how I am doing when I’m in the midst of a hard spot, I will be honest. However, I’m also aware of who I’m talking to, the context, how much they really want to know and how much they deserve to know.

Get more help when needed

At times, building resilience means seeking out professional help and support. When you sense you need more tools to cope and move forward, find a licensed therapist to talk negative thoughts over with, and to see possible solutions. I’ve worked with professional counselors who helped me feel empowered to tackle life’s challenges in new ways.

Seeing a counselor can help you identify and meet your own needs Seeing a counselor can help you identify and meet your own needs

If the first counselor you meet with doesn’t seem to be a fit, find another one. It’s a bit of an art and a science to find the right therapist. Don’t give up.

Learn New Skills

Few of us innately possess the tools we need to deal with the challenges of modern life. Resilient people are continuing to grow their ability to cope. How can you grow in resilience? Who around you seems more resilient? Observe what they do. 

Learning new skills helps us have more resilience Learning new skills helps us have more resilience

In the midst of my lowest places, I’ve sought out classes, counselors and wise friends to learn skills to calm myself in the midst of anxiety (mindful breathing was a game changer), tools to self regulate my emotions instead of letting them run my show, I’ve learned skills to have that difficult conversation, to name just a few. Learning self regulation skills helps me calm myself more quickly when adversity strikes.

The power of mindful breathing

The biggest hack for me has been deep breathing. Slowing down my breathing tells my racing brain that we aren’t under threat. It’s safe. It triggers a physiological response in my body, lowering heart rate, and sending energy to my prefrontal cortex where decision making and executive function reside.

Research shows the benefits of mindful breathing to cope with negative situations.

There is significant research on deep breathing as part of healthy ways of handling stress There is significant research on deep breathing as part of healthy ways of handling stress

Let Go of Control

Looking at what we can control instead of what we can’t also keeps our eyes on forward-looking action. Many of my clients spend far more time worrying about what they can’t control instead of putting that energy toward what they can. 

Choose to let go of what you cant control Choose to let go of what you cant control

Others fight what is unchangeable. I’m all for grit, tenacity and perseverance. However, we want to focus that energy where we can make the biggest difference. Many recovery support meetings end with the Serenity Prayer “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the wisdom to change the things I can, and the courage to know the difference.” Those categories of what I can and cannot change help me focus my attention and energy.

Accept what is

However, we also have to practice the art of “radical acceptance”, a skill from Dialetical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) that accepts what is. Yes, my relationship didn’t end the way I wanted.  This happened. What can I focus on going forward instead of clinging to what has already happened? What can I learn from what happened? How can I apply my problem-solving skills to moving forward?

5 Skills for your Resilience Toolkit

Building resilience is a lifelong journey. Just when I think I’m in a good place with my tools, something new happens and I get to choose resilience again. We’ve looked at five skills in building resilience:

1) Mindset Matters

2) Caring for yourself

3) Growing Community

4) Learning New Skills

5) Letting Go of Control

Take action

Take a moment to think through these skills. Maybe it’s paying attention to your thoughts and being open to consider a new way of looking at things. Perhaps it’s scheduling time or white space on your calendar to think or invest in something that gives you life or it’s calling a friend. What’s one small thing you could experiment with today to build your resilience toolkit? It’s a day by day choice. What will you choose today?

<a href="" target="_self">Wende Gaikema</a>

Wende Gaikema

Specialties - Emotional Intelligence, Executive Presence, Self-Confidence, Personal Branding, Relationship Management

Share This Article

Related Articles

Four steps to achieve goals and create a fulfilled life!

Who doesn't want to improve and achieve their goals, or find ways to “take it to the next level”? Sounds intriguing, but often feels like it's just out of reach. In this article, we take a closer look at the single biggest impediment which is keeping you sidelined in...

5 Essentials for Leaders in Uncertain Times

Your days are so busy that sometimes you wonder where the time went. You want to be the best for your team, for your family, and for yourself.  Yet there is a whole lot coming at you every day, especially in these constantly changing and uncertain times. Leaders in...

Using Executive Coaching To Combat the Status Quo

From the film Babe The scene: Christmas day on the farm. The pig, the cow, hens, and Ferdinand the duck crowd by the kitchen window, craning their necks to see which unfortunate one of their kind has been chosen to become the main course at dinner. On the plate is...

The Journey of Setting your Goals. It’s part of the process.

I recently wrote an article that focuses on 3 keys that can help anyone break through their performance barriers; achieve that better tomorrow, whatever it is. The first step was to have a vivid picture of what your ideal future state looks like. It's setting your...

Ready To Make A Change?

Our Experienced Coaches Are Ready To Meet You.

Submit the form below, and one of our coaches will be in touch!