• Published January 21, 2023
  • 5 Minute Read

Leadership Resilience: Handling Stress, Uncertainty, and Setbacks

Published January 21, 2023
Leadership Resilience: Handling Stress, Uncertainty & Setbacks

How to Be a More Resilient Leader

Over the past few years, we’ve been reminded that change is ongoing, plans unravel, and expectations aren’t always met.

Work priorities shift, players change. And for many of us, work will likely never return to a pre-pandemic “normal.” People who can’t handle a fast pace or uncertainty are less likely to feel motivated at work and more likely to become overwhelmed.

And, of course, stress isn’t limited to the office; personal setbacks and crises don’t go away just because work is already difficult. Young children and aging parents can squeeze mid-career professionals. And no matter what anyone says about keeping home life and work life separate, or trying to find “balance,” pressure from one easily seeps into the other.

That’s why resilience — maintaining equilibrium under pressure — is among the most important skills for leaders at all levels to master.

The question isn’t how can you avoid difficulty and stress — that’s nearly impossible to do. Rather, the question is, How do you face it?

All of us can benefit from improving our leadership resilience — making us better able to face a crisis, recover, and adapt.

3 Practices to Build Your Leadership Resilience

At CCL, we advocate for these 3 best practices to build your resiliency:

Infographic: 3 Practices to Strengthen Your Leadership Resilience

1. Manage your personal energy.

Control your own resistance. “Show up,” give your best, and relinquish attachment to the outcome. Stay in the present.

2. Shift your lenses.

Take charge of how you think about adversity. Understand your beliefs about the situation, and choose your response. Exercise compassion for yourself and others.

3. Find your sense of purpose.

Develop a “personal why” that gives your life meaning. This helps you better face setbacks and challenges. Also, look for ways that crisis and adversity may connect to your larger life purpose. Lessons can be gleaned from hardships.

How to Be More Resilient: Take Better Care of Yourself

Our ability to cope with stress, illness, and change is improved when we make time for wellness and take better care of ourselves. These are a few ideas we share with our participants to help them build their leadership resilience:

5 Self-Care Tips for Leadership Resilience

1. Get enough sleep.

What can you do to conserve energy? Get between 7.5 and 8.5 hours of sleep each night. Set a regular sleep schedule, even on weekends. Disconnect — and park those devices far from the bed. Create a relaxing environment that’s dark, cool, and quiet. Prioritize sleep, because it’s directly connected to productivity.

2. Prioritize exercise.

What can you do to increase your physical energy? Exercise and leadership are closely linked. During the workday, get up and move every 90 to 120 minutes. Suggest a walking meeting. Climb stairs instead of taking the elevator.

3. Play brain games.

What can you do to overcome mental fatigue and exhaustion? Learn anything new. Solve a challenging puzzle. Find positive distractions such as hobbies or meditation.

4. Control your emotions.

What can you do to become more conscious of emotional triggers? Figure out who and what pushes your buttons. Step away, slow down, or enlist an ally to help you control your reactions and choose your response. Cultivate kindness by doing something nice for someone else. Use positive self-talk.

5. Enhance social connections.

What can you do to create more meaningful and productive relationships? Ask a colleague for advice, give positive feedback, or share something you recently learned about yourself.

Access Our Webinar

Watch our webinar, Building Resilience and Leadership in the Context of Crisis & Telework, and learn practical ways to enhance personal and team resilience and effectiveness during times of crisis.

Reflection & Journaling Can Help You Be More Resilient

Another way to improve your leadership resilience is to reflect on your experiences.

One thing you can do — every day if you like — to help build your leadership resilience and your capacity to weather stressful events is journaling.

We recommend using “learning journals” or “reflection journals” as tools for gaining insight into your leadership experiences. The process of writing and reflection builds self-awareness, encourages learning, and opens the door to adaptability.

The form and content of your journal is a matter of individual choice. However, when you do sit down to make a journal entry about an experience that has challenged your equilibrium, we recommend it have 3 parts:

  1. The event or experience: Describe what occurred as objectively as possible. Don’t use judgmental language. Stick to the facts.
  2. Your reaction: Describe your reaction to the event as factually and objectively as possible.
  3. The lessons: Think about the experience and your reaction to it.

In short — capture the event or experience in objective language, describe your reaction, then note the lessons you might get from it. We use journaling as part of almost all our leadership development program experiences, and we emphasize with our participants that learning leadership resilience doesn’t come from the “doing” but in the “reflecting on the doing.”

To foster this reflection, even if you don’t journal, just spend some thinking. Recall a time in your personal or professional life when you were able to rise above a difficult situation. Then ask yourself:

  • What happened?
  • What was I thinking and feeling at the time?
  • How did I get through it?
  • What did I do that helped me get through that situation?
  • What did I learn from the experience and my reaction to it?
  • Is there a pattern in my reactions?

You have the resources within you to become more resilient. But it does take some effort to learn (or remind yourself) what will work best for you, and it requires you making time for yourself.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Help your people develop leadership resilience and lead themselves and their teams to high performance with our flagship Leadership Development Program (LDP)®, available in both face-to-face and online formats.

Written by

Leading Effectively Staff
Leading Effectively Staff

This article was written by our Leading Effectively staff, who analyze our decades of pioneering, expert research and experiences in the field to share content that will help leaders at every level. Subscribe to our emails to get the latest research-based leadership articles and insights sent straight to your inbox.

This article was written by our Leading Effectively staff, who analyze our decades of pioneering, expert research and experiences in the field to share content that will help leaders at every level. Subscribe to our emails to get the latest research-based leadership articles and insights sent straight to your inbox.

Leadership Resilience: Handling Stress, Uncertainty, and Setbacks
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About CCL

At the Center for Creative Leadership, our drive to create a ripple effect of positive change underpins everything we do. For 50+ years, we've pioneered leadership development solutions for everyone from frontline workers to global CEOs. Consistently ranked among the world's top providers of executive education, our research-based programs and solutions inspire individuals in organizations across the world - including 2/3 of the Fortune 1000 — to ignite remarkable transformations.