“We live in very uncertain times,” says CCL’s Lisa Sinclair. “The question isn’t how can you avoid difficulty and stress — that’s nearly impossible to do. The question is, ‘How do you face it?'”

Change is ongoing, plans unravel regularly, and your expectations don’t always get met.

“The work priorities shift, the players change,” Sinclair says. “You could be transferred, reassigned, or — who knows — will there even be a job?”

And of course, personal setbacks and crises don’t go away just because work is already difficult. We often get an unwanted double dose, with setbacks facing us at home and work.

“All of us can benefit from becoming more resilient — better able to face our struggles, recover, and adapt,” Sinclair continues.

Resiliency is also a business issue. People who can’t handle a fast pace or uncertainty won’t perform at their best in many modern organizations. They may be more likely to call in sick and perhaps feel unmotivated when they’re working. Stress lowers productivity and increases health problems (and healthcare costs). And when people in leadership positions are angry, reactive, or anxious — in other words, not resilient — it sets the tone for how others interact, react, and get work done. It influences our ability to make decisions, affects our interpersonal interactions, and impacts our ability to see the big picture.

It’s contagious.

Our ability to cope with stress, difficulties, roadblocks, criticism, rejection, or change is improved when we take better care of ourselves. One way to do this is to focus on overall well-being and building energy across multiple dimensions: physical, mental, emotional, and social. Here’s the framework that participants in our Leadership Development Program use to come up with ideas for building their resilience and helping others to do the same:

  1. Sleep. What can you do to conserve energy overall? Get between 7.5 and 8.5 hours of sleep each night. Set a regular sleep schedule, even on weekends. Disconnect — park those devices far from the bed. Create a relaxing environment that’s dark, cool, and quiet.
  2. Physical. What can you do to build your physical energy? During the workday, get up and move every 90 to 120 minutes. Suggest a walking meeting. Climb stairs instead of taking the elevator.
  3. Mental. What can you do to overcome mental fatigue and exhaustion? Learn anything new. Solve a challenging puzzle. Find positive distractions such as hobbies or time with friends. Try meditation.
  4. Emotional. What can you do to become more conscious of your 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. Create a gratitude journal. Cultivate kindness — do something nice for someone else.
  5. Social. What can you do to create more meaningful and productive relationships? Ask a colleague for advice, give positive feedback, or share something you learned about yourself recently.

Still unsure of what to do to become more resilient? Sinclair suggests taking another page from the Leadership Development Program participants’ workbook as a starting point:

Recall a time in your personal or professional life when you were able to overcome, prevail, bounce back, or 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 that made me a more resilient person today?

“You have the resources within you to become more resilient,” Sinclair says. “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.”


3 Best Resiliency Practices When ‘Bad Stuff’ Happens

Our team members have had many opportunities to put this approach to resiliency to the test.

Back in 2006, one future CCL leader endured the unexpected loss of her father, declined an ideal promotion, left a wonderful organization, and moved across the country to help her mother. She found herself jobless while dealing with a crumbling marriage that eventually ended in divorce. Several years later, she became a CCL senior faculty member, a passionate speaker on the value of resilience. Like her, we advocate for these 3 best resiliency practices:

  1. Personal energy management. Manage your own resistance. “Show up,” give your best, and relinquish attachment to the outcome. Stay in the present. Exercise compassion for yourself and others.
  2. Shifting your lenses. Take charge of how you think about adversity. Understand your beliefs about the situation and choose your response.
  3. 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.



6 thoughts on “Leadership Resiliency: Handling Stress, Uncertainty, and Setbacks

  1. Melaku Yirga says:

    Great piece of morning reading. Thanks CCL!

    1. Rishi Kant Kulpati says:

      Its a great piece of advice for everyone especially who work in corporate.

  2. Jillian says:

    Its great for corporate jobs.

  3. Anna Marie Campbell says:

    Great piece! We all experience the highs and lows during our careers and this piece is great advice when the rough patches start. How we respond to the good, the bad and the ugly says a lot about who we are.

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