Effective leaders assume the immense responsibility to exceed expectations and respond successfully to the diverse need of multidisciplinary team members. It is not uncommon for leaders to face stressful challenging situations that require a delicate resolution and gingerly reconciling conflict.  Often, there is a complex interplay of interpersonal issues and demands that require levels of resilience to expeditiously move forward positively.


Deconstructing Psychological Resilience

Resilience is a complex concept that encompasses physiological responses, psychological, cultural and spiritual characteristics which may determine how a person will respond and function in times of stress (Resilience Alliance, 2010). Resilience, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is ‘the ability to rebound or spring back, the power of something to resume its original shape or position after compression or bending’. In philosophical terms, it can be understood within a concept of conatus: a word variously translated as striving, endeavor, tendency and effort, and also with meanings related to power, will, and desire. Conatus is an essential attribute of all things, and in particular of human beings. It is our striving towards self-maintenance. For health researchers, resilience may be an interactive concept which refers to the capacity for successful adaptation in adversity, the ability to bounce back after encountering difficulties, negative events or hard times (Rutter, 2006). It includes a sense of self-esteem or self-confidence, patience and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, humor in the face of difficulties and a belief that problems can be solved (Connor and Davidson, 2003).  It is the process of adapting well in the face of emotional difficulties, adversity, trauma, tragedy, and overwhelming or unrelenting stress.


Core Concepts of Resilience

Core concepts of resilience are: 1) optimism and perseverance, 2) personal competence and tenacity, 3) social competence and support, 4) emotional awareness and tolerance of stress, and 5) internal locus of control (Siebert, 2005); and it can be beneficial for diverse leaders.


Selected Characteristics of Resilient People

Some of the common characteristics of resilient people include the following according to Tugade et.al, 2004:

  • They have a sense of meaning, direction, and purpose. They are value-centered rather than reactive and defensive.
  • They realize that the quality of our lives depends on how we focus our energy and our attention. They try to align their thoughts and actions with their values. They know how to motivate themselves to take action.
  • They don’t judge themselves or others harshly when things go wrong. They focus on what they want, not on what they don’t want.
  • They are able to tolerate ambiguity, uncertainty, and imperfection. They have a long-range perspective, so they give themselves and others room to grow. They can afford to be flexible and creative because they are centered in their values.
  • They are reasonably optimistic. Even though they are dedicated to doing things well, they don’t take themselves too seriously.
  • They take responsibility for their mental programming, their emotions, and their actions. If they have ineffective ways of thinking and behaving, they evaluate them and make appropriate changes.
  • They look at adversity as a challenge rather than as a threat. They realize that no matter how the present situation turns out, they will learn and grow from it.
  • They respect themselves and other people. They have a spirit of cooperation, looking for win-win solutions rather than trying to win over other people or ignoring their own wants and needs because of fear.
  • They know how to let go of things they have no control over.


Strengthening Psychological Resilience

Building resilience is a personal journey that includes a combination of several factors, including:  (1) establishing and nurturing healthy relationships that create love and trust, provide role models, and offer encouragement and reassurance, (2) demonstrating a positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities, (3) harnessing skills in effective communication and problem solving, and (4) delineating the capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses. Some of the tools that may be useful include the following:

  • Try to avoid viewing crises as insurmountable problems—you can’t change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events.
  • Try to look beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better.
  • Try to acknowledge small and/or subtle changes in how you feel as time goes on; this may help you to better deal with difficult situations moderately.
  • Try to learn from your past-focusing on past experiences and sources of personal strength which can help you learn about what strategies for building resilience might work for you.


“If you’re not hopeful and optimistic, then you just give up. You have to take that long hard look and just believe that if you are consistent, you will succeed.”
Congressman John Lewis



  • Connor, KM., & Davidson, JR. (2003). Development of a new resilience scale: The Connor‐Davidson resilience scale (CD‐RISC). Depression and Anxiety, 18(2), 76-82.
  • Oxford English Dictionary. Resilience.  Retrieved from http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/learner/resilience
  • Resilience Alliance (2010). Assessing resilience in social-ecological systems: workbook or practitioners.  Retrieved from http://www.lsln.net.au/jspui/handle/1/8086
  • Rutter, M. (2006). Implications of resilience concepts for scientific understanding. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1094(1), 1-12.
  • Siebert, A. (2005). The Resiliency Advantage: Master Change, Thrive Under Pressure, and Bounce Back from Setbacks.  Berrett-Koehler.  Portland, OR