Resilience stock-take

What can leaders do for themselves and their teams to help overcome feelings of fatigue as we face a pandemic winter? One idea is to make time to re-connect with one another by doing a ‘resilience check’. At Praesta we draw on decades of evidence to help focus on the areas that need attention for the challenges ahead.

Here are three of my favourite insights from a cross-section of that evidence:

In ‘How Resilience Works’ Diane Coutu draws on psychological research and testimonials of people who have gone through difficult experiences. In essence, she found the main practices or mindsets that helped people to thrive were:

  • A staunch acceptance of reality, not avoiding or hiding from difficulty but really fronting up to it
  • An ability to improvise, to use creativity and imagination to find ‘work arounds’
  • A deep belief that life is meaningful; finding meaning and purpose even in hardship helps to build a bridge from the present-day challenge to a better future

The Kauai Longitudinal Study is a famous piece of research that for many decades followed a multi-racial cohort of children born in 1955 on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

The study examined the impact of risk factors, protective factors and stressful life events, assessing how each participant responded to adversity in their life. Among the mindsets and behaviours that helped people thrive were:

  • An active approach to problem solving
  • A tendency to perceive experiences, even traumatic events, in a positive light
  • An ability to obtain positive attention from others
  • Close ties and strong relationship with others

Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and holocaust survivor wrote about the core of the human spirit in extreme adversity. One thing he believed can never be taken away is the choice each one of us has over what attitude to bring to the circumstances we face. A central insight from his personal experience and clinical training is this: if we can find something to live for; if we have a meaning at the centre of our life then even the worst kind of suffering can be bearable.

Based on this evidence and our own wide experience of resilience coaching at Praesta, here are some questions that you can work through on your own or with colleagues to help build your resilience:

  • Think back to times and even recent examples when you have faced and overcome adversity. What sorts of actions did you take? What do you think got you through? What can you draw from those experiences that might be of help today and in the future?
  • Seek out trusted guides and advisors. Given where you are, what additional help and support do you need or would you like? What is holding you back from reaching out and asking? If you could make just one new contact this month what would it be?
  • If you are constrained at work and for now can no longer do the things that you enjoyed as a team, can you find creative ways to work around the barriers? What practical changes could you or others make this autumn to maintain and develop your friendships and informal relationships, the ‘social capital’ that helps get things done?

Viktor Frankl encouraged us, when facing difficulty or adversity, not to ask ‘why me’? but rather, ‘what does this moment ask of me?’ He believed that we should try to cultivate a mindset that looked at setbacks as teaching, an opportunity to learn. Even when facing your own difficulties, being a source of help, advice or support to others, perhaps through mentoring, volunteering, or everyday friendship can help give meaning to your life. What have you personally learned and what has your team learned in 2020 that could be of value to others?

Una O’Brien
Executive Coach, Praesta Partners


Praesta, The Resilient Leader
Praesta, The Resilient Team
Coutu, L. (2002) How Resilience Works Cambridge, MA., Harvard Business Review
Frankl, V. (2004 edn.) Man’s Search for Meaning London, Random House