The Resilient Leader

Master psychologist and hall of fame pro football coach, Vince Lombardi, said, “The greatest success is not in never falling, but it is in rising every time you fall.” This is sound counsel for anyone navigating the COVID-19 era. Everyone is suffering to some degree; some much worse than others. It is the responsibility of leaders to shine a light on the path forward for their followers and this comes from demonstrating resilience.

Anyone who has ever led anything will tell you that at some point in time the organization you lead will face adversity. For that matter, every living person faces adversity at some point in their life. It all comes down to how prepared one is to face these challenges and how one responds. A leader must prepare themselves and their followers to overcome challenges. The preparation takes the form of psychological, physical, and spiritual wellness. Resiliency is much more than fighting through tough times. It is also about developing into the best person you can be. A resilient person is the type of person who meets challenges head-on and wins. Optimism and enthusiasm are two key traits of a resilient person. Like any other trait, they must be exercised in order to become a strong part of one’s make-up.

On September 20, 2015, the Dallas Cowboys were playing their second game of the season against their division rival, the Philadelphia Eagles. Eagles outside linebacker, Jordan Hicks, blitzed and as he tackled Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, he came down hard on Romo’s shoulder resulting in Romo suffering a broken collarbone. Tony Romo conducted an interview after the game with his arm in a sling. Romo spoke about meeting challenges with an offensive mindset. He mentioned that “the NFL is all about overcoming adversity”. Romo pointed out that every team and every player will face adversity over the course of the season. He went on to say that achieving successful outcomes is all about how a person responds to adversity on an individual basis and how a team responds to adversity collectively.

What Romo said applies to any organization whether it be a sports team, a military unit, a business, or a non-profit organization. Adversity is a given. Success is realized by how an organization responds to adversity, and any organization looks to its leader during trying times and takes cues from the leader on how it will respond.

Resiliency does not happen by itself. Like most other things that provide personal or organizational benefit, it takes hard work to develop a resilient spirit. Resiliency has three components. You need to have positive energy, you need to be fit, and you must have the ability to overcome adversity. You must work at developing all three components.

Positive Energy

The first component of resiliency is having positive energy. This involves a hopeful and optimistic way of looking at the world while still staying pragmatic. Colin Powell has said that optimism is a force multiplier. People gravitate to those who are positive. Negative people sap energy from others. There are not many people who want to associate with an energy sponge because it is too tiring and counterproductive.
To be successful, one needs to develop a positive outlook on life while fanning a flame of faith, hope, and optimism. Maintain a positive vision of the future and repeating positive affirmations is a good practice. However, visualizing success and repeating positive affirmations only work if you do it.


The second component of resiliency is “fitness”. This includes physical fitness, which is important for any endeavor. However, there are other elements of fitness to include spiritual fitness, emotional fitness, and mental fitness. Just as a person must spend time developing their physical fitness, they need to work on strengthening these other elements of fitness in order to develop resiliency.

One could strengthen spiritual fitness through meditation, believing in a power greater than themselves, and reading spiritual and motivational material. Emotional fitness is developed by practicing the concepts of emotional intelligence to include self-awareness, self-control, self-motivation, empathy, and relationship skills. Mental fitness is developed through challenging one’s mind through reading and mental exercises.

Overcoming Adversity

The third component of resiliency is overcoming adversity. This is about developing that grit and drive that allows one to face setbacks with an offensive mindset and not backing down and quitting when facing a challenge. One could develop this ability by seeking out challenges and by setting goals. In order to develop grit and determination, you must find ways to move out of your comfort zone. General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has encouraged our military to “grow comfortable with being uncomfortable.” This is good advice for anyone looking to strengthen their ability to overcome challenges.

Challenges Are Part of Life

Challenges and adversity are part of life. We cannot be certain what our challenges in life will be, but we can predict with certainty that we will face tough times on occasion. In order to succeed, leaders must prepare and steel themselves in order to face uncertain and challenging times. A great leader does not need to be great all the time, just when it matters.

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