The Skills of Resiliency, Perseverance and Courage to Develop Leadership

What do famous female leaders such as Coco Chanel, Katherine Graham or Joanie Rochette have in common? Coco Chanel, a young orphan who was denied the privileges of bourgeois society due to her social background succeeded in creating an empire despite the lack of possibilities in entrepreneurship at the time.


Katherine Graham took over her husband’s position as administrator for the Washington Post after his suicide. She succeeded in her task despite her lack of managerial skills and warnings from her closest advisors.


Joanie Rochette accomplished an Olympic performance despite the shock of losing her mother a few days before the task. She subsequently inspired millions of spectators to overcome their own challenges.


The ability to be resilient is what permitted these three leaders to succeed in their respective challenges.


The quality of resilience stood out in many interviews I conducted with leaders of various domains, which is why I bring up the reinforcement of resilience as another strategy for the development of leadership.


But what is resilience?

According to specialists on the subject, it is defined as “the capacity to adapt to deceptions and challenges in our lives” (Moen and Erickson, 1995). Encountering difficulties and challenges are inevitable on the path to achieve a goal such as building an enterprise, instilling change or developing a product, a service or an innovation.


Examples of such challenges and difficulties include: financing refusals, a loss of the clientèle or support and interest from colleagues. Resilience can be defined as the ability to persist, keep focusing or even to modify one’s approach to achieve the goal despite the challenges along the way.


There are different skills that can be practiced to become more resilient in difficult situations. These are perseverance, strength and courage. Some situations will require perseverance; others will require adjusting the approach to achieve the objective; other times they will require pure courage.


The practice and development of individual leadership requires maintaining and increasing one’s strength in the face of hardships and defeats. The ability to be resilient is a necessary quality to face challenges, otherwise there is abandonment, disinterest, apathy, pessimism and despair.


How do leaders face these defeats and hardships? How do they apply their resilience? I was able to develop some strategies for the development of resilience based on my interviews with leaders, these are:


1.The objective’s value.

Those who wish to become leaders need to associate a certain value to their objective.The tasks of identifying the objective, the reason for it, oppositions and potential obstacles are important as they will be used to make difficult decisions and to prioritize efforts over the easy or cheap alternative.


If the goal is identified and constructed according to personal and/or professional values, it will serve as a source of comfort in deceptive and discouraging situations.


2.Social support.

The tasks of building and managing an organization or the introduction of an new perception of a product or service does not require mass support. Important tasks and difficulties require the support of a few, important individuals that will encourage the leader to keep on going no matter how hard it seemed at the time.


Every leader I interviewed had at least one important person that supported them. The quality of one
or a few individuals is more important than the quantity of people for supporting the achievement of an objective and solving of problems.


3.A continuous mode of learning.

All difficult and demanding situations are opportunities to learn from the mistakes made and challenges faced. The experience acquired from the situation is applied to the leader, the members of the group and also to partners and colleagues in the organization. The experience acquired from facing different challenges can help to overcome the ones to come.


4.A sense of progress.

This is achieved by looking at the progress made to insure that one is continuing to advance towards the objective, rather than focusing on what has not been achieved yet.


5.The ability to act on and develop situations that can be managed.

In the face of a challenge, leaders quickly examine the aspects they can manage rather than complain and adopt a pessimistic attitude on what is out of their power to change. For example, rather than complaining about economical conjunctures, good leaders are quick to ask themselves what they can do to change their situation. Reacting in time to make a positive change is a characteristic of resilience.


6. Confidence in one’s abilities and ideas.

True leaders have an inflexible self-confidence and are constantly encouraging their own abilities and achievements. The opposite of resilience is to get discouraged in the face of hardships and challenges and put into question and criticize one’s abilities and ideas.


For example, Katherine Graham could easily have told herself that she did not have the experience or intelligence her husband had. She told herself instead that by putting in the required effort she would succeed.


7.An optimistic attitude.

In difficult situations, leaders adopt an optimistic attitude and remind themselves that the future will be better. To manipulate the future, these leaders redefine their objectives by reformulating their ideas and approaches to achieve them.


They adopt an optimistic attitude and are able to find a hidden opportunity and the support and experience needed to become better and stronger in the face of the next hardships and difficulties.



Leaders have the ability to be resilient when facing difficult situations. With time, they learned that challenges and difficulties are inevitable and even necessary to the improvement of their leadership skills. Eleanor Roosevelt defines the ability of resilience in the following quote:


“Every time you meet a situation, though you think at the moment it is an impossibility and you go through the tortures of the damned, once you have met it and lived through it you find that forever after you are freer than you were before.”


Edith Luc, Ph.D.


©2011, Edith Luc. All Rights Reserved.

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