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Developing Resilience at Work

The research proves it - developing resilience at work leads to higher performance

To listen online or download the audio or the pdf of this article click here


If you're leading a team - what's not to like about this small list?

  • More productive people
  • Achieving bigger goals
  • Overcoming obstacles
  • People succeeding against the odds
  • Stronger, more determined and focused employees

If you want this for your team, then you need to develop strong resilience in yourself and your team members. The report released by Global Corporate Challenges (GCCC), builds on the swell of well-documented research, that informs us that developing resilience at work isn't a nice to have, it is a must-have.

A workshop I regularly run is called, "Inspiring Leadership." A big part of that program is about building resilience and self-belief in leaders so that they can go on and inspire the same in their people, so that they get the type of outcomes listed above.

One point before we move forward - resilience doesn't mean withstanding. It is more about having the skills that enable your life to flourish. And, what the research tells us, is that resilience can be learned!

Below is the model, I use in the 'Inspiring Leadership' program to illustrate the elements that need to be in place for a person to strengthen their resilience.

In this article we certainly can't cover all those topics. However, I want to share with you a couple of the concepts, from the module on Focus and Mind Mastery, that we spend time exploring in the program; which are self-esteem, self-compassion and the growth vs fixed mindset.

Self-esteem vs Self-Compassion

During a workshop, it occurred to me that there is a lot written about self-esteem (indeed, you can find several articles I've written about self-esteem here on this site), but not so much on self-compassion. Research by Eherte, Joormann and Berking (2014) suggests that self-compassion certainly does have an impact on resilience.

Before we move on to self-compassion, a quick thought about self-esteem.


In recent decades, much emphasis has been given to growing self-esteem. Regrettably, somewhere along the way, we lost our way! We have a load of flawed thinking around self-esteem and self-worth.

For the past few decades, we've been teaching kids that they are better than average. That they are a success no matter what. In other words they are infallible and superior. All kids get gold stars; in junior school they play sport with no scoring.


And this sense of "I can't/don't fail" and/or "I'm the best, even when I fail" creates a real problem. A real problem in life in general. More importantly though, in the workplace, you as a leader, are going to hit up against people who haven't 'failed' or when they did 'fail', they were propped up so much that they don't have the resilience to bounce forward (not back, but forward!) into a new level of performance or determination to improve their capability. 


For example, nobody wants a performance appraisal that says you are "average".


However, many younger people who've grown up with this flawed self-esteem system, are often crushed when they get the 'average' rating. Whereas others, who've grown up with the:

  • fail
  • learn
  • reassurance of "you're doing ok"
  • now move on

method of self-worth building, may still not like the average rating. But they're more resilient at shrugging it off and moving into 'improvement' mode.


The challenge, for you the leader, is this. If someone has grown up feeling they don't fail, that they are infallible, then the moment they are challenged (whether it is through their own appraisal, or the appraisal of others), you'll get angry, defensive people in your team. Ouch!


Please don't get me wrong, self-esteem can and should be nurtured. But self-esteem must be built in a way that an individual believes he or she is capable of taking on big goals, even after failure.  That they are resilient enough to say, "I failed", then identify ways they can enhance their capability to improve performance the next time. 


In fact, in the Thought Patterns for High Performance Program we teach you exactly how to do this ... with yourself, your children, the people you work with. Unfortunately, we've got a lot of work to do. In some arenas, people have taken limited knowledge and implemented practices that have had pretty harsh consequences for our young people. I'm about re-dressing that challenge.

Growth vs Fixed Mindset

As part of the Focus and Mind Mastery module, as we are examining self-compassion and self-esteem, we discuss the linkage between these concepts and the growth vs fixed mindset. You can read more about this way of thinking in the exceptional book "Mindset" by Carol Dweck.


A person who is running on the flawed self-esteem model mentioned above is likely to have a fixed mindset. Whereas, a person who is strong in self-compassion is more likely to have a growth mindset.


If you want to take a quick quiz to see if you've got a growth or a fixed mindset - click here.


People who are good at self-compassion (and have a growth mindset) accept that they aren't perfect - that they are part of the learning tribe called humanity.


They don't need to get cranky, oversensitive and self-justifying - (in other words trying to protect their ego) - when they mess up or things don't go quite as they'd hoped. They understand that every situation gives them an opportunity to learn and grow. 


They understand that if they keep putting the effort in they'll get better at whatever they are trying to master.

Whereas people with a fixed mindset give up easily, turn away from challenges, put in little effort (if I'm not good at it or have no ability in it, why bother). They are threatened by other people's success. If they fail at something they feel it has marked them forever! Ouch, it's a hard way to live.

When we fail or mess something up, have most of us have that voice inside our head that says, "You aren't good enough. There you go again, how could you have failed at that" and other such negative self-judgments and evaluations. For some it is just a low murmur that they can control fairly quickly. For others it is a boom box blaring inside their head and keeps popping up on a regular basis and dominates their thinking.

When someone has that boom box banging on it can be very hard for them to perform at their best. They are more likely to go for smaller goals, give up more easily, take it out on others etc.


Gaining capability at managing the impact of that voice in your head – getting good at self-compassion - is a critical skill if you want your life and your career to flourish.

So, How do You Grow Your Capability at Self-Compassion?

Firstly, it's about controlling the dialog in your mind. It's about saying things like, 'Sure I made a mess of that, but no-one is perfect. I've learnt from that experience and am stronger and wiser now.'

And, let's be clear here I don't mean be all pollyannerish. When you mess up you need to fess up to yourself. Take responsibility for your part in whatever unfolded, in not the way you planned.   


Then quickly move into solution mode - not rumination mode. See the situation for what it is - not worse than. Understand your role in it, then guide your self-talk so that you learn from the situation. These are the sorts of skills you need to get good at practicing.

Secondly, if you had someone talking to you the way you sometimes talk to yourself would you hang around them? Likely not!

So, become your own coach. When you find yourself ruminating on something that you messed up, ask yourself, "How is this type of thinking moving me forward? If I was coaching and reassuring someone dear to my heart, someone I want to see be kind to themselves and flourish in life, what would I say to them to get them into a growth mindset, to get them into a solution-finding mode?"

Then go ahead and write down your answers! Yes, don't just think it. Grab your journal, Notes on your iPad or the proverbial napkin on the bar and write down the positive things you can focus upon. What you've learned, what you'll do differently, where you can go for more information, whom you can seek out for help or to apologize to, and so forth.

There is something about writing that makes things real.

That gets it out of your head and helps you to greater clarity. Please do yourself a favor, next time you find yourself ruminating and beating yourself up, practice getting it out of your head and down in black and white.


The first thing you do is write all the negative stuff, when you have it down in black and white, you can actually start to refute some of the nonsense you are telling yourself.

I suggest three columns:

What I am saying to myself




What the actual facts are



What I can do to change the situation



For example, you might have a line in the first column that says something like, "I always end up shouting at John and he hates me". In your head, you probably nod sagely and say to yourself, "Yep that's right I always shout at John. John hates me". In black and white though, you've got the opportunity to start thinking about the times that you haven't shouted at John.

The times when John was supportive of you. Then you can start to think about what was different in those times. What did you, or John, do differently so that shouting didn't happen. Then using a solutions coaching model on yourself, you can start to look for ways to build on those successes (the 3rd column).

Once you've you've used the process a few times, i.e. writing your thoughts out, you'll be surprised at how much it will change your mindset. Virtually all of my coaching clients have commented on just how much this one small technique has helped them.

Here's why this is so important. If you aren't able to be empathetic and positively coach yourself ... you sure as chips won't be able to positively coach one of your team members when they make a mistake.

If You Can't be Empathetic and Coach Yourself in a Positive Way ... You Won't be Able to Coach Others

If you want to grow a high performing resilient team you need to be really good at coaching up. It's a great skill to have and one that you can master and learn pretty quickly.

There is more to self-compassion and resilience than I've covered in this article, but these couple of tips, if you practice them, are a great starting point.

I finish many of my coaching calls with clients by saying, "Be kind to you". So, this article ends with, "Go, be kind to you" do this and you'll start to build your resilience muscle ... and as a great role model to others, you potentially will help them improve their resilience.


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