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Becoming a resilient leader

The past week has brought a mix of emotions as the England football team made the country proud by making the final of the Euros 2021. But instead of football coming home, it went to Rome, despite the team giving it their very best. Criticism of the players who took on the penalties has been widely shared, quickly turning into racist attacks, making this an incredibly difficult time for the players and their manager. This difficult time, however, will no doubt shape their careers as they learn that failures are part of the experience, will help them build resilience, and set them up for success in the long term.

Learning is a skill

Failures and mistakes are not indicative of our limits but rather tools that inform how we develop. We can choose to see difficult circumstances as learning opportunities rather than as a time to quit. Asking “What can I learn from this?” instead of “Why me?” can shape the challenge to our advantage.

Resilient leaders see failures as temporary setbacks, maintaining a positive attitude and strong sense of opportunity during difficult times. Approaching challenges with a positive outlook allows them to bounce back from adversity and come out stronger on the other side. But resilience is not something we are born with. It is a learned capability and very much like a muscle that gets stronger the more we use it.

Building resilience is essential to becoming a leader who can navigate through challenges and guide others with courage and conviction. Research shows that leaders with high levels of resilience are viewed as being more effective by their managers, peers, and direct reports and that resilient organisations don’t just survive, but they thrive in the face of change. In addition, resilience positively impacts work satisfaction and engagement.

Starting with self

Resilience is built within, requiring a strong understanding of leaders themselves to successfully guide others. Through self-reflection and feedback, leaders can identify their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as their motivational drivers, and approach challenges with a sense of emotional intelligence. Being able to separate out what we can and cannot control is essential, as is the recognition that we do have the ability to choose how to interpret or frame situations we have no control over.

Shifting our personal perception of setbacks is an impactful way to build resilience. A University of Buffalo research found that stressors, big and small, help us develop the skills to face other taxing or stressful circumstances in the future. This is supported by a Harvard study which revealed that when researchers told participants that the physiological signs of stress prepared them to cope better, they became less anxious and more confident in stressful situations, seeing their stress response as helpful - as a result, their hearts and blood vessels responded in the same manner that they would in times of intense happiness.

By looking inward, making a commitment to learning, following a purpose, and cultivating relationships, leaders can improve how they respond to challenges. At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real-life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops and coaching programmes, ranging from communication skills through to executive leadership development. In most cases, we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off-the-shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at


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