The Things Resilient Leaders Do – Applying Positive Psychology In Organisations

Copes well under pressure. Can manage multiple projects and heavy workloads. Can lead others through change. Oh and by the way you have fewer people and a smaller budget than last year…got it? Good. I look forward to seeing your progress report next month….Sound familiar?

So how do resilient leaders manage? What are the best managers and leaders doing that we might copy or borrow to make things a little easier for ourselves?

I am often asked to speak, coach or train teams on the topic of resilience. It’s a fairly safe word for the HR and Management world to use but often the reality hides a little darkness too. Even the strongest are breaking. Those who have followed the well-established theory of westernised business culture, with rules like:

Rule 1 – Work Harder, Be Stronger
Rule 2 – if in doubt, see rule 1

I know those rules very well. Here’s the rub…we can’t be strong enough for everything…that’s why we work in groups, live in families and have teams. Yet the position of leader can also come with feelings and expectations which are counter to our human design. But there are those who survive the toughest of times. Those who navigate roadblocks and blockages with observable ease and confidence. What are those leaders doing which might inform and educate us? In short, they take good care of themselves so that they might lead and care for others. If you want to lead and care for others you must first, and foremost, take care of yourself. The alternative leads to cracks, strains and broken fuses.

The science of applied positive psychology is helping us understand the activities and conditions in which some of us thrive. By understanding a little more about the activities which can broaden and build our psychological resources we can give ourselves the best chance to face the challenge around the next corner (Fredrickson 2009).
So what might you do? Sonja Lyubomirsky in her 2007 book ‘The how of happiness’ introduces 12 activities which have been shown to improve our well-being. By spending time, even moments, on one of these activities you might just build resources today which will increase your resilience for the challenges of tomorrow.

Have a look down the list and see what you are naturally drawn to, some will fit easily; some you might find hard….so do the easiest one for you.

1. Expressing Gratitude: Counting your blessings for what you have (either to a close other or privately, through contemplation or a journal) or conveying your gratitude and appreciation to one or more individuals whom you’ve never properly thanked.

2. Cultivating Optimism: Keeping a journal in which you imagine and write about the best possible future for yourself or practicing to look at the bright side of every situation.

3. Avoiding Over-thinking and Social Comparison: Using strategies (such as distraction) to cut down on how often you dwell on your problems and compare yourself with others.

4. Practicing Acts of Kindness: Doing good things for others, whether friends or strangers, either directly or anonymously, either spontaneously or planned.

5. Nurturing Social Relationships: Picking a relationship in need of strengthening and investing time and energy in healing, cultivating, affirming and enjoying it.

6. Developing Strategies for Coping: Practicing ways to endure or surmount a recent stress, hardship or trauma.

7. Learning to Forgive: Keeping a journal or writing a letter in which you work on letting go of anger and resentment toward one or more individuals who have hurt or wronged you.

8. Increasing Flow Experiences: Increasing the number of experiences at home and work in which you “lose” yourself, which are challenging and absorbing.

9. Savouring Life’s Joys: Paying close attention, taking delight, and replaying life’s momentary pleasures and wonders, through thinking, writing, drawing, or sharing with another.

10. Committing to Your Goals: Picking one, two, or three significant goals that are meaningful to you and devoting time and effort to pursuing them.

11. Practicing Religion and Spirituality: Becoming more involved in your church, temple or mosque or reading and pondering spiritually themed books.

12. Taking Care of Your Body: Engaging in physical activity, meditating, and smiling and laughing.

Why not try something for ten weeks and see what difference it makes to you?

Resilience – the great oak grew for 300 years, stood strong and broke in the great storm; the Willow moved with the wind of the storm and survived.

With kindest regards,


Lyubomirsky, S. (2007) (adapted from Ken Sheldon), The How of Happiness (2007), Sphere Publishing
Fredrickson, B (2009) Positivity, Oneworld Publications

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