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Four Ways to Maintain Leadership Resilience

Great leaders understand that resilience – the ability to persevere no matter what – must be nurtured and protected. Knowing what gives you energy, motivation, and fuel in the tank is essential. This is what enables you to face adversity or, paradoxically, to avoid feeling depleted after a big win.

You owe it to yourself to make sure you know what adds credit to your resilience bank and what constitutes a withdrawal. You need to keep topping up your resilience balance if you are to avoid burnout and remain fit to stay in the game for the long term.

Before the pandemic, “resilience” was more typically associated with IT systems and business continuity plans. Now the term has more personal resonance for leaders who aim to thrive in changing times.

There are four practical strategies every leader can adopt to boost personal resilience: smart goal setting, self-care, spending time with inspirational ideas and laughing.

Goal setting

At the heart of every book on success is the importance of goal setting. Setting goals is the process by which you give meaning and direction to your life. A by-product of having clearly defined goals is a massive boost to personal resilience.

Not only do goals pull you towards your purpose, they give you the personal armor you need to withstand setbacks, criticism and adversity. If you know where you are going, what you are seeking to achieve and why, you become more motivated and unstoppable. If you are unsure about your purpose or aspirations, you will be much more susceptible to being knocked off course by life events and others’ opinions.

Many leaders understand the relevance of setting organizational purpose and goals. Only the best leaders understand that having aligned personal goals is fundamental to maintaining their resilience and ability to be effective at work.

The most important thing is to give this process the time and energy it requires to be meaningful. In writing down your goals, setting a timescale for their achievement and committing to take action, you will unlock improved levels of motivation and resilience.

When you are driven by goals, particularly those that benefit more people than just yourself, it is the equivalent of inoculating yourself against criticism or praise.

Aligning personal goals to the organization's goals enables you to ask better questions, understand investment requirements and make more informed decisions.


Maintaining your physical, mental and emotional health is key to sustaining your resilience. This means eating well, moving well, thinking well and taking breaks.

Eating well - It is surprising how little emphasis there is in the medical education curriculum on nutrition, given its importance in maintaining good health and preventing illness. Although we all know what we should do, we do not always put this knowledge into practice. Keeping a food diary is a good way to build awareness on whether you are giving your body the good quality fuel it needs to stay energised and robust.

Moving well - Not only does regular exercise build physical resilience, it produces endorphins that give a lasting sense of emotional well-being. There are many different types of exercise, so finding one you like and sticking with it is the key. Yoga is a good option for any age and level of fitness as it combines movement with calming breathwork. Any regular exercise that affords movement with freedom from distraction and the opportunity to turn off internal chatter will boost resilience and the ability to cope.

Thinking well - Many people swear by meditation as the ideal way to build and sustain high levels of resilience, and there are numerous books, apps and courses on the subject. Personal development systems regularly include the elements of goal setting, positive self-talk and visualization.

At its heart, thinking well is about mastering self-talk by entering a relaxed state, repeating positive affirmations and visualising your goals as if they have already been achieved. Daily practice creates the belief you need to keep going, no matter what difficulties come your way. The key is to find an approach that works for you in building your resilience and to make it part of your routine.

Taking regular breaks - To sustain your resilience, you need to switch off and get away regularly. Resting and enjoying a change of scenery is restorative and gives you a valuable sense of perspective. You should not feel guilty about taking time off. It is essential to recharge your batteries if you are to avoid burnout. Think about what is most restorative for you. Apart from major holidays, small breaks of a few days can be just what you need to top up your resilience.

Spending quality time with inspirational ideas and people

Spending quality time with inspirational ideas and people always enhances personal resilience. There are so many options to top up your inspiration levels, such as reading books and articles, listening to podcasts or attending virtual or in-person workshops/seminars.

Whatever medium you prefer, routinely accessing new ideas and information will give you motivation and inspiration that, in turn, enhance your resilience.

Demonstrating your commitment to keep your inspiration levels high is an excellent way to lead by example. No matter how accomplished you are, you will need to refresh your knowledge and keep your technical skills up to date.

Coaches and mentors - Leadership can be a lonely place, but it is important for your resilience that you have access to advice and inspirational new ideas. Many leaders find it helpful to have a coach or mentor who can help them grow and think differently about problems. One of the key antidotes to imposter syndrome is having the support of a coach or mentor who can introduce thinking and problem-solving with a fresh perspective.

But choose wisely. Your colleagues, friends and family may be great company and supportive, lovely people. However, when it comes to taking advice or navigating leadership problems, they cannot help you if they have not been where you are or have not done what you seek to accomplish. Only take advice from someone who has achieved what you wish to achieve, has navigated the kinds of challenges you face and has demonstrated the values and qualities that you admire and find inspirational.

The busiest and most successful people also tend to be the most generous in giving time to help others succeed. Consider who might be best placed to serve as your mentor and have the courage to ask them to help you. If you choose well, you will most likely be pleasantly surprised at the response you receive.

If you have not got access to a suitable mentor, you might try the method of forming a virtual mastermind group as described by Napoleon Hill in Think and Grow Rich. He would hold imaginary meetings with business leaders to seek their guidance.

Laughter is the best medicine

Holding a leadership role is a serious responsibility. Some roles involve working in high-risk environments where decisions have serious consequences for the well-being and lives of others. Working in these settings requires great resilience and the ability to avoid becoming oppressed by the weight of the responsibilities you carry.

The best way to cope is to laugh more. According to the highly regarded Mayo Clinic, laughter truly is the best medicine. The Mayo Clinic research shows that laughter creates positive effects on your mental and physical health. The short and long-term benefits of laughing include reduced stress, depression and anxiety, a decrease in heart rate and blood pressure, a stronger immune system, less tension as muscles relax and circulation improves and more happiness. Laughing more puts you on a sustainable, resilient path.


For leaders seeking to develop and maintain resilience, there are four strategies that offer the most benefit. These include: setting goals that create energy, practicing self-care to nurture good physical, mental and emotional health; spending quality time with inspirational ideas and people; and laughing more. Implementing these four strategies will cultivate the internal strength needed to keep energized and steadfast no matter the headwinds. 


Sue Musson holds a BA from Columbia University and achieved her first board-level leadership role at the age of twenty-seven. She is keen to share what she has learned to help other leaders build their confidence and capability.

For 30 years, Sue has held senior executive and non-executive roles in the business services sector, in her own successful businesses and in five National Health Service (NHS) trusts.  She recently completed her term as Chairman of Liverpool University Hospitals, one of the UK’s largest hospital trusts, with 14,000 staff and a turnover of £1.2Bn.  Sue led the trust through a merger, the pandemic and numerous challenges including the completion of a new hospital, formally opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales. She regularly chairs panels to appoint UK judges.

In her new book, Firecracker Leadership, Sue has drawn upon her extensive leadership experience to create a practical, “how to” toolkit to inform, reassure, amuse and challenge readers looking to supercharge their leadership skillset. Delving into the real-life challenges faced by leaders, this guide offers compelling case studies that reinforce the importance of what Sue coins “The Firecracker Leadership Framework”[1].


[1] Available as a free PDF at



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