The Resilient Leader: How to Build Resilience in 2022

December 07, 2021

When we think about “successful” or “unsuccessful” people, we often relate their success to their ability to bounce back from challenging situations. 

Resilience, which is our ability to frame setbacks as learning opportunities and manage our emotional responses to stress, has been linked to increased work satisfaction, lower levels of depression, and overall well-being.

The COVID-19 pandemic has tested all of us in various ways, making resilience one of the most sought-after skills in the modern workplace. As leaders, we have a responsibility to develop this skill as much as we can — both so we can lead by example, but also so we can succeed and even thrive in our personal and professional pursuits.

Many people assume that “resilience” is something that emerges during times of hardship, but we can nurture and build our resilience through training and self-reflection, and by investing in a wide variety of interactions with people in our lives. 

How Resilience Helps Us Bounce Back

Resilience helps us bounce back from hardship by:

  • Learning to laugh at ourselves 
  • Helping us see a path forward
  • Helping us manage surges in workload with ease
  • Helping us make sense of social dynamics in a given situation
  • Helping us confidently self-advocate or push back when needed
  • Learning empathy so we can let go of negative feelings
  • Finding purpose and meaning in our work
  • Helping us grow so we can maintain perspective when setbacks occur

Of course, building resilience doesn’t happen overnight; it takes time to cultivate it within ourselves and create authentic connections with people from all parts of our lives so we have a support system to lean on when things get tough.

If you’re looking to build resilience in 2022 (and in the years ahead), follow these steps:

1. Identify Your Resilience Needs

Our resilience needs are unique to us and are shaped by our personal history, personality, and the personal or professional context we find ourselves in at any given moment.

For example, some of us prefer laughter and being “cheered up” to hashing through our problems with someone else. Or, we may feel more comfortable exploring a work-related challenge with a friend instead of discussing it with a professional colleague. 

If you’re not sure how to identify the top sources of resilience in your life, try using this framework developed by researchers at Harvard Business Review:

Interactions between different “spheres” in our lives add dimensionality to our lived experience, helping us become more resilient through our interactions with different groups of people.

Using the chart above, ask yourself: where do the people or groups in my life fall into these categories? What can I do to strengthen these sources of resilience?

2. Expand Your Resiliency Network

Now that you’ve identified the people and groups in your life who help you be more resilient, it’s time to plan how to cultivate and expand on those relationships. This can be accomplished in two ways:

  1. Broaden existing relationships. This could mean exploring non-work interests with a colleague or strengthening relationships with acquaintances who make you feel good, laugh, and are easy to talk to.

  2. Broadening our network. Finding support groups, athletic clubs, volunteer work, or spiritual groups that add new dimensions and a variety of relationships to our lives.

Exposing ourselves to diverse groups of people, and deepening our relationships with people who have already shown the potential for support, help us develop relational skills and practice different ways of leading, managing, communicating, crisis management, and more.

Expanding our resiliency network also helps us cultivate empathy and discover new perspectives that we can apply to all areas of our lives, not just work. 

3. Foster Wellness

So far we’ve talked about the importance of developing an external support network for building resilience, but taking care of yourself is key to staying level-headed during a crisis. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Take care of your body. Stress is as much physical as it is emotional, so maintaining positive lifestyle factors like eating healthy food, getting lots of sleep, drinking plenty of water, and exercising regularly help strengthen your body to adapt to stress and reduce the impact of anxiety and depression.

  • Practice mindfulness. Yoga, journaling, meditation, or spiritual practices can help you focus on the positive aspects of your life and remember what you’re grateful for, even during times of hardship.

  • Avoid negative behaviours. It can be tempting to try to “mask” stress with drugs or alcohol, but these actions don’t solve the problem and can cause you to feel worse later. Instead, focus on finding healthy ways to manage stress rather than trying to eliminate it altogether. 

4. Find Your Purpose

Studies have shown that living a life that we feel has purpose makes us happier and healthier, so we suggest taking these steps to enrich this dimension of your life and increase your resilience:

  • Help others. Helping others gives us a sense of purpose, increases our self-worth, and helps us diversify our support network. Whether you decide to volunteer at a soup kitchen, coach a little league team, or simply be there for a friend during a time of need, tangibly helping others builds our resilience.

  • Take small steps towards your goals every day. Develop a list of realistic goals that you can work towards, like reading a book a month or exercising three times a week, and make time each day to plan and reflect on how you’re accomplishing that goal.

  • Tackle problems head-on. Acknowledging our emotions during difficult times is important, but it’s also important to be proactive about handling problems in our life. If issues feel too big to tackle at once, break them down into manageable pieces and make time each day to chip away at them one by one.

Start Building Your Resilience Today

The first step on your journey to building resilience in 2022, and in the years ahead, is to make an investment in yourself. By developing your resiliency networks, identifying your needs, finding your purpose, taking care of yourself, you can develop this important and sought-after skill.

Remember: great leaders are those who practice and demonstrate resilience, but they didn’t get there overnight. Everyone started somewhere, and there’s no better time for you to embark on this journey for yourself.

To help you get started, consider our self-paced Leading with Resilience course, or subscribe to our newsletter and join over 1200 professionals who get these articles delivered straight to their inbox once a month.