Business Essentials

When the going gets tough: 5 things resilient leaders do in a crisis

When the going gets tough: 5 things resilient leaders do in a crisis

Thursday, 09 September 2021

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. This popular proverb has been around far longer than the idea of ‘resilience in leadership’ has buzzed around academic and business circles. But in today’s frenetic corporate world, where stress is normal and change happens at breakneck speed, it’s perhaps more relevant than ever before. You can probably think of leaders – managers in your workplace, public figures in our societies, and politicians on the world stage – who are not only able to withstand drastic change, significant threats and immense public scrutiny, but seem to come into their own during such times – a shining beacon of resilience for others to follow.


So what separates those leaders who we turn to in tough times from those who buckle under the strain of long-term stress, organisational mayhem or personal upheaval?


In our recent webinar, Resilient Leadership, everywoman associate and record-breaking ocean-rower Sally Kettle discussed the resilience traits that give some leaders the edge. And the good news - we can all learn and harness these skills at every stage of our careers. So without further ado, we present the five ways to spot a highly resilient leader.



It’s lonely at the top, or so the saying goes. We have a tendency, at least, to view leadership in this way. We often gain proximity to our leaders as a member of a mass audience, watching them take to the stage alone, singular under the spotlight. Their role is to lead and guide and so we rarely witness them deliberating, collaborating or seeking help from others. But psychologists are absolutely clear that the mark of a resilient leader, rather than someone who can withstand pressure in isolation, is one who has a network of trusted advisors, mentors, sponsors and friends, whom he or she can turn to for feedback, advice or a reassuring word – and whom they can do the same for in return.


Nearly a third of everywomanNetwork members say that having a supportive network is the resilient quality they’re most lacking. The good news is that you can begin to build a network from scratch at any stage of your career. Learn more in our workbook An Introduction To Building Strong Networks.



Whether you’re already in a management role or have ambitions to be, do you have a sense of what sort of boss you are or could become? When a tough situation comes along, do you know which strengths you’re going to call on and where to find help if necessary? Do you undertake regular, honest assessments of your strengths and weaknesses? Do you praise yourself for a job well done, but acknowledge when you weren’t up to scratch, without beating yourself up or dwelling on failure? Resilient leaders find enormous power in their self-awareness. Knowing what they’re all about enables them to manage with confidence, make decisions without second-guessing themselves, and learn from both their successes and failures.


Nearly 40% of everywomanNetwork members say they need help developing this trait. If you’re one of them, conducting a personal SWOT analysis is a good place to start. Draw on your career history and external feedback where relevant, to identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in your current role. If ‘Knowledge is power’ (Francis Bacon), then ‘Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom’ (Aristotle). Take more steps to understanding your work personality in our workbook Understanding Your Strengths.



Many of us slip into a negative spiral of ‘victim complex’ when things don’t go our ways. We feel like life is happening to us, that we have no control over our environment, and that power lies in the hands of others. Resilient leaders don’t think like this, or if they do, they’re able to check in with themselves and move past these emotions very quickly. If a huge setback disrupts a project they passionately care about, they might briefly allow themselves to feel disappointment or anger, before getting back on track and finding a way through the maze.


It was Benjamin Franklin who said ‘Nothing in life can be said to be certain, except death and taxes’. In today’s world, ‘rapid change’ is just as certain. If we want to rise to the top of organisations prone to frequent structural overhauls or vulnerable to disruptive technology or economic uncertainty, embracing change is essential. Not just if we want to be seen as resilient leaders, able to safely and effectively navigate our teams through choppy waters, but also if we want to manage our stress levels and enjoy our work. Find more guidance on change management in the workbook Building Resilience.



The resilient leader is a positive, force for good, and they like their workplaces to embody these attributes. That’s why a resilient leader will take swift action to stamp out persistent grumbling. They recognise that a culture which breeds such behaviour is one which undermines confidence, self-esteem and positive growth.


In a poll, 40% of everywomanNetwork members said that an end to gossiping and complaining would be a welcome change within their organisation – more so than stamping out bullying, reducing overtime, and training in stress management. When direct reports finds themselves in a negative frame of mind, a resilient leader, rather than becoming a sounding board for their gripes, will encourage them to reflect on and to assess and manage the sources of their stress. Find more tips like these in our workbook Developing Leadership Behaviours.



Resilient leaders don’t just need to be role models for others to learn from their resilient qualities; they need to take a hands-on approach to their team’s welfare. They are good listeners and actively encourage their team members to support one another and speak up early about issues. Do colleagues or direct reports regularly come to you and ask for your help or advice? If you sometimes struggle to offer support effectively, consider working through the everywomanNetwork workbook Becoming A Mentor.


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