What does this mean?: Resilience

Displaying resilience is included under ‘Exemplifies personal drive and integrity’ in The Integrated Leadership System. The key elements of resilience across executive and senior executive levels are:

  • Persisting with and focusing on achieving objectives even in difficult circumstances
  • Remaining positive and optimistic
  • Monitoring own emotional reactions and remaining controlled
  • Continuing to move forward, sustaining effort despite criticism or set backs
  • Overcomes obstacles and rapidly recovers from setbacks
  • Sustains high levels of effort and energy following a setback
  • Withstands criticism from stakeholders and maintains composure when under pressure
  • Remains relaxed, composed and focused during a crisis.

For middle and junior levels, Displays resilience is replaced with ‘Promotes and adopts a positive and balanced approach to work’.

This capability ranges across:

  • Works as directed to achieve work objectives even in difficult circumstances
  • Remains positive and optimistic
  • Responds to pressure in a calm manner

So resilience is linked with persistence, emotional control and optimism.

What does scientific research tell us about resilience?

Two experts in the field, Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatté, summarise the main findings in their book The Resilience Factor, 7 Essential skills for overcoming life’s inevitable obstacles. Asserting that ‘everyone needs resilience’ they point out:

“More than fifty years of scientific research have powerfully demonstrated that resilience is the key to success at work and satisfaction in life. Where you fall on the resilience curve – your natural reserves of resilience – affects your performance in school and at work, your physical health, your mental health, and the quality of your relationships. It is the basic ingredient to happiness and success.” P. 1

The authors also assert that we can boost our resilience. How? By changing the way we think about adversity. These are some of the responses resilient people have to challenges:


  • don’t wither when confronted with risky or dangerous situations
  • understand that failures are not an end point
  • derive meaning from failure and they use this knowledge to climb higher than they otherwise would
  • feel anxious and have doubts, but they have learned how to stop their anxiety and doubts from overwhelming them.

“Resilience is a mind-set that enables you to seek out new experiences and to view your life as a work in progress.” P. 26

If you want to build resilience the areas to consider include:

  • Emotion regulation
  • Risk assessment
  • Self-knowledge
  • Self-confidence
  • Reaching out
  • Mindfulness
  • Stress management

For practical strategies read Reivich and Shatté’s book.

What would be examples of demonstrating resilience?

Resilience is most likely to be needed during project/program implementation and dealing with people, particularly if there is conflict and criticism.

Resilience can be demonstrated in these situations:

  • Long-term projects that may not have major hiccups but drag on for a long period of time, thus demanding that you sustain energy and enthusiasm.
  • Projects that are going well, but suddenly there’s a major, unexpected hiccup that completely throws people, thus demanding rapid response, positive outlook, remaining calm.
  • Most crises, where remaining calm, rapid response, optimism and handling pressure are needed.
  • Stakeholders, staff, clients who have strong, opposing views and/or are critical of what you are doing.
  • Intensive periods of work (such as at budget time) involving long hours, multiple tasks, demanding stakeholders, tight deadlines.
What interview questions could you ask to assess resilience?
  • Our workplace is characterised by multiple demands, shifting priorities, short deadlines. This environment can be stressful.
  • What do you do to keep on top of things, to refresh yourself, when working in such an environment?
  • Tell us about one of the most challenging obstacle you have faced at work? Include what the obstacle was, how you went about dealing with it, and what you learnt from the experience.
  • As a team leader, it will be important to stay positive when faced with challenges. Tell us about a time when you had to find a way to be positive in the face of something that other staff saw as negative. How did go about achieving this?
  • Describe the working environment of your current job. How does it demand resilience from you?
Cautionary note:

Be aware of your reactions to an applicant’s story about a major challenge they had to overcome, particularly if the outcome is not positive. One negative example does not make a person lacking in resilience nor a failure. What matters with resilience is whether the experience added to their current ability to refuse to succumb to defeats.

Almost nothing worthwhile is achieved without mistakes and set backs. Yet applicants think that selection panels expect them to bring a perfect record of triumph in the face of adversity. The person who has never had to deal with failure is a greater liability than the person who has struggled with adversity and at times failed, but is capable of rising again. It is these experiences that teach us emotional intelligence. Adversity, not comfort, is the test of character and the laboratory of resilience.


Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman, Character Strengths and Virtues, A Handbook and Classification, Oxford University Press, 2004

Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatté, The Resilience Factor, 7 Essential skills for overcoming life’s inevitable obstacles, Broadway Books, 2002

James Sarros, Brian Cooper, Anne Hartican, Carolyn Barker, The Character of Leadership, What works for Australian leaders – making it work for you, John Wiley & Sons, 2006

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.