Resilience — it’s more important in a leadership role than talent

In this article I look at resilience, why it is important for our success and how we can build our resilience.

Organisational life requires a lot from people today. The pace and intensity of our working lives is huge as we figure out how to ride the changes, earn a living and get on, not to mention being our best leadership self. It’s a real challenge.

As well, workplace cultures can still feel very male, women can struggle to gain the same level of recognition as their male colleagues and to navigate the landscape that doesn’t match the map we were given. That doesn’t make us victims but it means resilience for female leaders is stretched — and essential.

Four challenges faced by female leaders:

  • Unconscious gender bias — the ‘double bind’ of the same behaviours not being perceived or judged the same between men and women
  • Role models — fewer female leader role models means it is less clear what good needs to looks like
  • Work/life balance — the challenge of being a primary carer and managing a career
  • Sexual harassment in the workplace

What is resilience?

Resilience, also called mental toughness or grit can be defined as the act of “bouncing back” and sticking with it in the face of challenge. Resilience is our internal shock absorber. Research shows that in terms of personal and professional success, it’s as important, if not more important than talent. Angela Duckworth in her book Grit outlines the mixture of passion and persistence that determines grit.

We can’t avoid the challenges we confront at work and in life but how we deal with them will make all the difference and this means building our resilience.

The reasons why resilience is so critical for female leaders:

It helps us overcome

Resilience helps us to overcome setbacks and emerge stronger than before. In challenging business environments women often feel as though they lack support, so resilience is necessary to thrive and turn challenges into opportunities.

It helps us feel in control

Being resilient isn’t about avoiding challenges and stress, it’s about learning how to face and deal with them. Adopting a positive, resilient mindset ensures leaders maintain their composure as they seek out the best solutions to problems. This in turn builds the confidence others have in you as a leader.

It is born of commitment

Resilient leaders hold on when times are tough, they remain dedicated to their teams and to the company’s mission. The example resilient leaders set boosts engagement and commitment. Strong leaders are adept at delivering messages of hope to their team so they remain focused and optimistic about the future.

Three ways to build your resilience

  1. Develop a growth mindset

Resilience is fed by optimism and a positive, growth mindset. Resilient leaders are adaptable, they embrace change and motivate others during periods of transition. Resilient leaders possess a positive, ‘can do’ mindset that equips them to move and lead others towards uncertain futures and outcomes. As for set-backs? If a resilient leader fails to accomplish a goal, they look at it as a learning opportunity, not a failure.

  1. Fill up your reservoir

Overwhelm is common for women in leadership due to the pressures they experience both at work and at home. Setting aside time to decompress helps to restore positivity and mental stamina. So, building resilience requires a well-nourished mind and body. Be kind to yourself!

It is really important that we make sure we have resources in us and around us, so when something happens or we have to go through a particularly challenging time that we are not running on empty. So we need to refuel all the time, with friends and family, sleep and exercise and training our mind to pay attention to the things that nourish us. Being thankful and grateful on a daily basis for example.

  1. Connect with your aspirations

Remember why you are doing what you do and the difference you are making. We can get through a lot of challenging things when we know why. It helps us keep things in perspective. So, connect with your ‘why’ for achieving each goal, then when times get tough, reminding yourself of your ‘why’ will provide the positive energy you need to keep moving forward.

We all possess some level of resilience within us, but there’s always room to develop this muscle further. Treating mistakes or failure as continual learning and development is central to your evolution and success as a female leader. Learning is your superpower!

So when things don’t go so well, just say ‘how fascinating!’ and figure out what you learned from that experience. Most importantly, be quick to forgive yourself when you make mistakes. Be on your side, not on your case. It will make you more resilient. And that in turn will enable you to go to even greater heights.

If you’d like to know more please contact me at




Penny de Valk is an internationally experienced Chief Executive, coach, mentor and educator.

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Penny de Valk

Penny de Valk

Penny de Valk is an internationally experienced Chief Executive, coach, mentor and educator.

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