The R Word: Developing Resilience in Testing Times

“If I hear that bloody word again…” Words from one of my clients last year on the board of directors for a FTSE company I work with. She was talking about the ‘R’ word! Resilience is a remarkable attribute that many of us work hard to build but for some it can be a word banded about to permit organisations to throw more work at people writes Rebecca Mander at

“You need to work on your resilience” is a phrase too often uttered by demanding direct reports. So we know WHAT we need to be but HOW is rarely discussed! When we’re going through setback, such as times like this, facing it with resilience may seem like an impossible goal, but it IS something we can work on and develop.

But really what is resilience and how can we get more of it?

Resilience is our ability to bounce forward through challenging situations. Often described to children as ‘bounce back’. As I see it in my personal and professional life we move forward always and learn from adversity. Author of “Option B”- Sheryl Sandberg talks about post traumatic growth. “The insight and confidence people gain when recovering from trauma is critical not only to recovery but to making people stronger than they were before.”

Our law firms can help foster this growth by reaching out, offering support and programmes that will equip employees with tools and techniques to be “more resilient” …it is not enough to simply ask someone to “be more resilient”.

Resilience to you and I will mean different things based on our frame of reference. You may look at a colleague, low and puffy eyed on a conference call telling everyone how home schooling is driving them bonkers and question their resilience. After all you know they have a partner that doesn’t work who can help out and isn’t everyone going through this? What they may not be sharing are their financial struggles which are leading to arguments at home and the stress of increased hours meaning they are spending little time with their children and are unable to visit a poorly parent. We cannot measure resilience.

…but we can develop it!

In 2007-2008  we lost our son Charlie. I went back to work, I became a new Mum again and I lost my Mum…I guess you could say I know a fair bit about resilience and for sure I can promise you as I do my clients, that looking after yourself and asking for help are the keys to true resilience.

Since I launched my Bounce Forward programme, one of the greatest discussion points we have is about the perception of a resilient person. Leaders especially tell me they feel the need to have all the answers and ‘be strong’- almost cape wearing individuals. However, when I ask them to pick a leader they really admire and to consider their resilience we always discover that these highly valued people DO ask for help, DO involve others and DO speak out when they don’t have the answer. When I ask the delegates how they have felt when their direct reports have sought their opinion or advice, they say they feel empowered and valued with greater responsibility. So why not do it ourselves when we need to?

There is true power in vulnerability and one of the most listened to Ted Talks by Brene Brown is popular for that very reason. It resonates with everyone. We may think vulnerability is the opposite to resilience, but I believe it is the key to it. We are individuals and can only do so much but by seeking assistance from other minds and resources we not only empower others but we release ourselves from the pressure that coping alone can bring.

As a newly appointed MD at the beginning of the global crisis in 2008, I would gather Directors every morning to check in, seek counsel and plan our way forward. I would speak to my neighbour who had a successful business in the same sector and I would regularly speak to my boss in Holland. To pretend I had all the answers would have been foolish, arrogant and possibly lead to more loss. As it was when the company grew it was thanks to a team of people…not one person wearing their pants on the outside of their trousers!

So don’t think you need all the answers, empower others and collaborate to help you bounce forward in business or in your personal life. It is a privilege to help others and reaching out not only helps you but builds confidence in those who are supporting you too.

Rebecca Mander is an Executive Coach who specialises in supporting senior leaders in the legal sector. A Fellow of the Institute of Leadership and Management, and 20 years of coaching experience, Rebecca works with CEOs and Managing Partners to support their teams when they need it most. For further details of Rebecca’s work, please go to her Linkedin page or website