10 Successful Leaders Share How They Developed the Resilience to Push Through the Most Challenging Times

More than intelligence and talent, resilience is key to achieving success.
10 Successful Leaders Share How They Developed the Resilience to Push Through the Most Challenging Times
Image credit: via Authority Magazine

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This story originally appeared on Authority Magazine

It has been said that more than and talent, resilience is the single most important trait required to succeed in today’s highly complex market.

In the course of our interviews with multi-industry business leaders on their most significant challenges, one common theme continues to emerge: Rapid change and disruption are the new norm in business and the only constant is the demand for resilience. And at the heart of resilience is the ability to adapt and recover quickly from adversity.

In Authority Magazine's series, “Rising through Resilience,” we explore the topic of resilience with leaders across all walks of business. Read their thoughts here:

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity. 

Francie Jain (CEO of Terawatt)

Francie Jain (CEO of Terawatt)
Image credit: via Authority Magazine

The steps anyone can take to become more resilient:

  1. Decide to be brave. My daughter has this cute book called, “Surfer Chick” about a young chicken learning to surf with her father. There is a great line, “Chick scoped out the water/to find the best wave/ It swelled up behind her.../ She chose to be brave.” I always think about this line because it reminds you that your attitude is a choice.
     
  2. Most days, I write a to-do list of items I am afraid of and do them. Include a few things on the list that you aren’t excited to do.
     
  3. Change your mindset: I used to be scared of putting myself and my company forward for press or awards. But, that changed once I became really clear on the solution and how it could help so many people. Once I believed it, I started to look at anything that had any amount of evaluation as, “You miss every shot you don’t take.”
     
  4. Go to a weekly class (yoga, pottery, etc.) where you can track your progress. For me, I have been going to yoga classes for 20 years, and it is fun for me to think back on when I couldn’t do a certain pose or when yoga made me really sore. Now, yoga is like a massage for me — it gets the knots out.
     
  5. Have a child. Every day is a new day and children are far from robots. I find that I have to try many different approaches to get the result I want. Sometimes I have days when I don’t see eye to eye with how my daughter wants to live. You have to work through it, there is simply no option with a child.

Kirk Simpson (Wave CEO)

Kirk Simpson (Wave CEO)
Image credit: via Authority Magazine

The steps anyone can take to become more resilient:

  1. Commit to do whatever it takes to win. Even be willing to volunteer to clean the company washrooms for a couple of months.
     
  2. Show your team you’re not going to sulk, but instead you are going to dig in. Lack of passion can be the cause of your business's demise.
     
  3. Find your niche.
     
  4. Work with amazing people.
     
  5. Work in service of something important.
     
  6. A significant chip on your shoulder can be leveraged to prove your resilience to yourself and to those around you.

Petra Kolber (Fitness Expert, Author and Podcast Host)

Petra Kolber (Fitness Expert, Author and Podcast Host)
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The steps anyone can take to become more resilient:

  1. Know that resilience doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I look at it as a two-way street. When you are riding high and life is going well, be sure to look around you for those that may need your help. And when you are in the dips of life, have the courage to ask for help.
     
  2. I love the idea of resilience being a three-pronged approach. This is work by Edith Grotberg, Ph.D.: 

    I Have — I have people around me who can support me.

    I Am — I am able to be responsible for myself.

    I Can — I can find help when I need it.
     
  3. Resilience is something that we can cultivate and strengthen and unfortunately, the only way we can do this is by going through the hard times. The hardships allow us to grow and although never easy, if you can remember that “this shall pass” and with each challenge, you are building up that resilience muscle it may lighten your buden.
     
  4. When we are challenged, we move into flight or fight mode and this amplifies our anxiety, stress and emotions linked to our survival. When we move into this state we are never at our best. Although not easy, if you can sit with the negative emotions, and be with all that you are feeling, including the more painful thoughts, your body will be able to express and process the healing faster, and in turn, you will be able to come back to your ready state more quickly.
     
  5. Self-compassion is the greatest gift you can give yourself during times where you feel uncertain and doubt if you will be able to pull through. There is a lot of research about the positive effects that come with hugging someone, and you can also elicit the same “feel good” emotions for yourself by giving yourself a 20-second hug as it will increase oxytocin (the love hormone) and reduce blood pressure and cortisol (the stress hormone).

Julian Sanchez, Ph.D. (Director at John Deere)

Julian Sanchez, Ph.D. (Director at John Deere)
Image credit: via Authority Magazine

Steps that anyone can take to become more resilient:

  1. Become comfortable with failure. Failure is not fun, so we shy away from it in both our professional and personal lives. We stick to what we know and seldom try new things because it reduces the probability of failure. So, practice “safe failure.” This could be simple things like, try to take a new route to work, or try to learn to play an instrument, or try to learn a new language. The key is don’t go into everything you try with the ultimate expectation that you are going to “succeed.” Give it a fair effort, but be willing to fail, which sometimes means giving up on something. I guarantee you will still grow, and you will become a little more comfortable with failure. For example, I purchased a unicycle about two years ago. I tried to learn, but after about a month of falling, I decided it was ok to fail at it. Again, it’s about trying things that stretch you, but being comfortable walking away from them.
     
  2. Surround yourself with dissenting views. This prepares your brain and your emotions to handle tougher problems and deal with them in a resilient way. The idea for my very first patent emerged out of a dissenting view, where a colleague disagreed with me on my idea to help operators of agricultural equipment stay fully attentive in self-steering vehicles. Embracing that dissenting view led to us patenting several methods to detect whether they were paying attention.
     
  3. Find those around you who will support you when you do fail. Part of being resilient is being able to bounce back, and that is a team sport. You can’t always carry the weight of tough failures on your own, so find those around you who are willing to help you through those moments and place added value on those relationships. My first boss at Deere, nearly 15 years ago, showed me what it’s like to provide support for those who take risks. As we were building up our research tools, I saw the need for an eye-tracker to allow us to better understand how our technologies were impacting operator behavior. It meant asking for an unbudgeted sum toward the end of a fiscal year. After being told no numerous times, I decided I would just wait a while. He pressed me on it and asked if I truly believed it was something we needed, and if so, told me to not stop pushing for it. He made clear he would keep supporting me. So I did keep at it, and soon after, succeeded in getting the purchase approved.

Jessica Billingsley (CEO of Akerna)

Jessica Billingsley (CEO of Akerna)
Image credit: via Authority Magazine

The steps anyone can take to become more resilient:

  1. This is going to sound totally Colorado, but I think you need to take time to be quiet, focus your attention and meditate. I’ve practiced yoga for many years, and through my practice, I can quiet my mind, center my energy and gain clarity. I stress practicing mediation.
     
  2. I am fortunate to be part of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO), a global leadership community of chief executives driven by the belief that the world needs better leaders. I understand not everyone can be part of an organization like YPO, but every leader can make a conscious effort to surround themselves with people who can make them better. I’m talking about mentors, teachers, advisors who can help us grow stronger, and we, in turn, can help.
     
  3. Define your mission and never lose sight of your vision. I think so often we can get distracted by all the noise and the naysayers that we can forget, the idea we started with was amazing. I encourage the idea of getting clear about what you want to do and why. Write it down, carry it around with you, and when in doubt, pull it out to remind yourself of your purpose and to motivate you to keep moving forward.
     
  4. Posess a sane estimate of your capabilities, and I mean that in the nicest way. When I think about my , it is easy for me to see moments where I put my ego aside and asked for help. I am great at many things, but I’m not great at everything. The trick is recognizing the talents others can bring to the table that will round you out and give these people a safe place for their talents to flourish. As an entrepreneur who has built a business and done every job you can think of, I know how hard this can be. In my experience, surrounding yourself with great people leads to great success.
     
  5. Take time to celebrate. It may seem obvious, but far too often in the drive to succeed, we can forget to stop and celebrate the little wins. I have a member of my team that closes staff meetings by asking each person, “What’s the one thing you’re proud of?” The idea is to stop and think and for one moment to share gratitude, share joy and recognize something good.

Ashish Prashar (Senior Director at Publicis Sapient)

Ashish Prashar (Senior Director at Publicis Sapient)
Image credit: via Authority Magazine

The steps anyone can take to become more resilient:

  1. Self-knowledge. More often than not we don’t know ourselves, don‘t want to depend on ourselves and don’t want to live with ourselves. But if you don’t take the time to understand oneself you’ll never understand your value and worth. Often this means delving into personal pain but embracing that is an inevitable consequence of true self knowledge.
     
  2. Self-renewal. Keep on growing. Let every challenge be the beginning and not an ending. As you move along your journey of life, you naturally narrow the scope and variety of your life and develop a set way of doing things. The process of self-discovery must never end. Do not leave this to chance, because society isn’t set up to encourage it.
     
  3. Support and love. You have to be capable of accepting love, support, help and advice from your community. This dissolves the rigitdities of the "isolated self," gives you new perspectives, alters your thought process and often forms the foundation you can go back to in times where you are set back.
     
  4. Courage to fail. Deconstructing the and failures and distilling them into potential guidelines for the future. When we refuse to embrace potential obstacles we can never find a way around them. Worse, we accept their inevitability, believing we deserve what we get. There is no learning without difficulty, it’s as simple as that.
     
  5. Purpose. People are always searching for meaning but it doesn’t have to be that existential, simply narrow this down to finding something you have great conviction for. Commit to it. Pursue it passionately. Pursue your purpose loudly. There is truth in that every calling is important when pursued with conviction.

Crystal Blanchette (Private Chef)

Crystal Blanchette (Private Chef)
Image credit: via Authority Magazine

The steps anyone can take to become more resilient:

  1. Intention. It’s amazing what we can manifest or bring to life when we set the right intentions. Setting an intention is like prayer for me. I get up in the mornings and speak to God, sharing who I get to be for the day and what I get to achieve. I create my day in my head and trust what is to be is up to me.
     
  2. Trust. I believe that practicing trust is key to my resilience. I have spent most of my life believing but to an extent. If it didn’t happen the way I wanted it to, or if things went sideways perhaps it wasn’t right for me. What I have learned over the last few years is that you can’t set an intention without trust, and if you can't trust, you’re not aligned with your vision.
     
  3. Vision. I see who I am, and where I’m going. If it isn’t in alignment with my vision it isn’t my vision. I get to be a support to others, but I do not steer away from what my ultimate goal is.
     
  4. Purpose. I am no longer driven by or money but instead a purpose. That purpose is a reminder that everyone deserves access to food and water regardless of class, gender, sexual preference, race, or age. With this purpose I stay resilient because it has yet to happen for everyone and I get to partner with those leading the charge to make it happen.
     
  5. Gratitude. I look back on the many challenges I have faced in my life and am so grateful to for the breakthroughs I've experienced from them. I spent many years blaming others for what was happening in my life. I now spend each day in gratitude for every experience, and see that I get to be responsible each day for my life.

Michael Dermer (Founder of The Lonely Entrepreneur)

Michael Dermer (Founder of The Lonely Entrepreneur)
Image credit: via Authority Magazine

​​​The steps that anyone can take to become more resilient:

There is no question that resilience can be taught. Especially for entrepreneurs, who face challenges every day. In fact, for many entrepreneurs, their first customer may be years away from their initial vision. And if they are pursuing something new and different (which most entrepreneurs believe they are), there will be challenges left and right. For entrepreneurs, it is not only essential to develop resilience as a leader, but also to demonstrate to your team how to be resilient in the face of great challenges.

Here are a few steps that can build that capability:

  1. Focus on the activity — not the emotion. Throughout an entrepreneurial venture, there will be highs and lows. First and foremost, an entrepreneur must learn not to react to the ups and downs of the day. This is easier said than done when you are talking about something that is your passion. Nonetheless, it is a must. When we are emotional, we can’t put in place the actions and activities that move you forward.

    The focus must be on the activities that make a difference. Once you have decided on your tasks that moves the needle, stop worrying about other tasks and finish the ones in front of you. In the movie "Apollo 13," the spacecraft suffers damage and the astronauts move through a series of procedures to prepare the spacecraft for reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Given the damage, is hardly assured. While they are working, Bill Paxton (who plays astronaut Fred Haise Sr.) questions whether Mission Control in Houston is giving the astronauts accurate information. Tom Hanks (who plays captain Jim Lovell) says:

    “All right, there’s a 1,000 things that have to happen in order. We are on No. 8. You’re talking about No. 692… We’re not going to go bouncing off the walls for 10 minutes, because we’re just going to end up back here with the same problems!”

    Work the problem. Focus on the items you determine require your attention that day. The entrepreneur’s path to success is rarely built with “giant leaps for mankind” but steadily-won, determined, daily progress. When we chip away at today’s to-do list, we build powerful momentum for our business.
     
  2. Build a plan and execute it. During the entrepreneurial journey, there will be things go right and things that go wrong. Some days, it will feel like everything is going wrong. Other days, it will feel like chaos. In the midst of the chaos, you need a plan. Planning is a skill that enables you to be resilient by focusing your effort on a plan and what it takes to succeed. Take the time to build a plan that includes all of the key steps you need to get to your goal. With a plan, you can wake up every day and spend time executing the plan. With the plan as your guiding light, it becomes easier to be resilient.
     
  3. Pick your tasks for the day. Every entrepreneur faces an overwhelming set of tasks to be accomplished. The list is endless. Strategy. Technology. Team. Business models. Plans. Tactics. Functional areas. Branding. Staff. Money . Offices. Fundraising. For every 10 hours of time, there are 100 hours of work. It’s like standing in front of a dam holding back a river of water. Your first issue of the day arises and pokes a hole in the dam, and you plug it with one finger. Then the next hole and you use another finger.

    After a few hours, you’ve encountered 10 issues and you’ve used your 10 fingers, so problem solved. Then another leak springs and then another. No problem, you are an entrepreneur and you are creative. You use your toes. Soon it’s only lunchtime and you have used all ten fingers and all ten toes. Then one more hole comes, and you figure out a way to use your tongue.

    As entrepreneurs we are subject to a constant pressure and intensity that is hard to imagine. That is on "Day 1." What happens on Day 100, 200 or 500? There are complex business issues to resolve; competition waiting to pounce from across the street or around the globe. No guarantees that hard work and smart ideas will equal success.
    So how do you be resilient in the face of 100 hours of work and 10 hours of time? It is not surprising then that entrepreneurs come to work, and instead of focusing on the tasks of the day, they worry about what is not getting done. If you focus on the 99 things that you can’t do that day or mentally jump ahead to tasks that require multiple days, you will waste time and effort.

    Once you have decided on your tasks for the day, stop worrying about other tasks and finish the ones in front of you.
     
  4. Only spend time and energy on what you can control. Being resilient in the face of challenges requires an incredible amount of energy. Entrepreneurs have to dedicate day and night to solving the challenges of the day. That energy and the time of the entrepreneur is scarce. In order to be resilient, and take on the task at hand, an entrepreneur needs every ounce of energy dedicated to what he or she can control. You must resist the temptation to expend energy on things that don’t make a difference.

Steve Schnall (CEO of Quontic Bank)

Steve Schnall (CEO of Quontic Bank)
Image credit: via Authority Magazine

Steps anyone can take to become more resilient:

  1. Have goals. Work to understand what drives or motivates you.
     
  2. Own and embrace your weaknesses, your circumstances and your insecurities. Understand that none of these define what is possible for you. Every human has challenges, to varying degrees, but most great successes were achieved despite challenges and long odds.
     
  3. Internalize and failures the same. Don’t let setbacks set your mood or impact your enthusiasm. My wife once criticized me in saying, “Nothing ever bothers you!” like that made me unhuman. It was hard for me to explain that I expect problems. I expect unforeseen obstacles and I expect setbacks. I know that they are part of the process, part of life and part of what I will always need to deal with to grow. I explained that it takes great resilience and discipline to push through problems without breaking down or quitting and that I am proud that I’ve built this core capability. Now, when problems arise, as they always will, dealing with them is routine for me.
     
  4. Learn to identify the upside in bad situations. The most resilient business people and leaders, in my experience, innately handle challenges and setbacks as opportunities. Innovation occurs when there are setbacks. Problems force new processes. Key resignations create openings to find great new talent. Product defects force better quality control. Bad customer reviews force better training and building. Financial losses force cost control and efficiency.
     
  5. Be persistent and determined, but also know when to pivot. Your original plan may, in fact, not have been viable, so don’t be afraid to tweak, reinvent and reposition.

Lorraine Veber (Chief Customer Officer at IWG)

Lorraine Veber (Chief Customer Officer at IWG)
Image credit: via Authority Magazine

The steps anyone can take to become more resilient:

  1. Think of roadblocks ahead of time. When planning, imagine what could go wrong and how would you maneuver around those obstacles.
     
  2. Be flexible. Nothing is set in stone. Try to have an elastic mindset.
     
  3. Seek to understand. Knowledge is power. Try to get to the root cause of setbacks. You may not have been able to prevent each one but you can always come up with a way of dealing with it.
     
  4. Don’t overthink it. Laboring over a setback can bring on low self-esteem and stop you in your tracks.
     
  5. Move on. Imagine yourself in a better place. How do you get from where you are now to there? Plan your next step, then do it.

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