Five ways leaders can develop better resilience

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face,” says Mike Tyson.

No one would know that better than the former World Heavyweight Champion boxer. Every fighter believes he will win and has a plan to do so, or else he wouldn’t step into the ring. The ones who become champions are the ones who can change the plan, and stay focused on the goal. You need resilience to take the hits and keep moving forward.

A resilient leader is able to respond effectively to disruptive events and confront, sometimes, brutal facts. Fortunately, resilience is something you can develop. It is an ability you can strengthen the same way you build up strength in anything. You train — and training means practice.

During a game in last year’s World Series broadcast, Fox Sports announcer Aaron Goldsmith shared an observation about playing at the championship level, “Nothing can prepare you for a 3-foot putt on the 18th hole of The Masters.” When the stakes are high, and the pressure is on, all you have to rely on is the training that got you there.

How you can practice to strengthen your resilience

In order to reach your full potential, it is essential to start with a growth mindset and maintain a positive attitude. The more flexible your response to change, the faster you will improve. Here are five things you can work on to develop better resilience:

  1. Challenge Yourself — Every year Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, gives himself a personal challenge. Last year it was reading a new book every two weeks. Whether annually, monthly, or daily do what you need to stay sharp and enthusiastic.
  2. Get Outside Your Comfort Zone — Go Daddy founder Bob Parsons’ No. 1 rule in his 16 Rules For Success is, “Get and stay out of your comfort zone.” Taking risks and doing things that make you uncomfortable will condition you for peak performance in the most intense situations.
  3. Fail — Renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp says, “The best failures are the private ones you commit in the confines of your own room, with no strangers watching.” Take on opportunities with small downsides so that you can both recognize and learn from failure.
  4. Focus on What Works — Resilience is not bouncing back; it’s moving forward. Learn from your mistakes, but don’t relive them. Apply your experience to finding solutions rather than troubleshooting problems. Building on what goes right accelerates your improvement and gives you confidence.
  5. Be Present — Practicing mindfulness will keep you in the moment and improve your ability to respond with immediacy. Ray Dalio, the billionaire founder of Bridgewater Associates, says, “Meditation more than anything in my life was the biggest ingredient of whatever success I’ve had.

The importance of resilience

The value of building resilience cannot be understated. It is, arguably, the most important characteristic to develop for any leader. In Diane Coutu’s Harvard Business Review article, Adaptiv Learning Systems co-founder Dean Becker stressed:

“More than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails. That’s true in the cancer ward, it’s true in the Olympics and it’s true in the boardroom.

Resilience is an ability you can develop, and need to strengthen in order to move forward in the face of formidable challenges and turbulent circumstances. Keep your eye on the prize, and practice the skills you need to help you reach your full potential.”

Bruce Whitney ( is founder and CEO of the Biggest Room of All and has more than 20 years of experience in change management, public speaking, and professional coaching. He can be reached at (213) 610-5002 or at [email protected] He recently published his first book, Think What You Want.