The current Knowledge Age is characterized by volatile environments, uncertain future, complex global markets and ambiguous results (VUCA). Surviving in such conditions is challenging both mentally and physically. And since the focus is survival, innovation and performance goes out for a toss.

We need leaders who dive head first into the VUCA world and navigate towards a worthy cause. But this journey is cyclical in nature, alternating between peaks and valleys. The peaks provide a sense of achievement and progression, while valleys test commitment and endurance. Most leaders are not able to overcome valleys and therefore give up but some bounce back.

The quality of bouncing back is called Resilience.

Resilient leaders have the ability to draw from their experiences to quickly recover from high risk situations.

How are some wired for resilience?

Research in the area of neuroscience suggests that resilience is a capacity – innate in the brain to bounce back from difficulty. Resilience like any capacity in the brain develops through experience causing neurons in the brain to fire. Repeated experiences cause the same neurons to fire again. Neurons that fire together wire together.

Repeated experiences cause neurons to fire again and again, strengthening the connections between them and creating neural circuits and pathways that make it likely we will respond to the same or similar situation in ways that we have responded before.

Resilient people have strong wired neurons that dictate favourable responses which allow them to ease through adversity.

Characteristics of a Resilient Leader

1. Self-Aware: have the knowledge of what they need? What they don't need? And when it's time to reach out for extra help?

2. Belief: stories heard and events experienced inspire belief and courage towards a better future.

3. Acceptance & activity: accepts adversity, works through it and eventually grows out of it. Acceptance is not about giving up, it's about leaning
    in to experience the full range of emotions and focusing on actions to bounce back.

4. Relationships: develops and maintains a strong and supportive network of people that act as a tool for reflection and validation.

5. Flexibility: designs structures and processes that recalibrate according to the situation.

How does the organization benefit from leader's resilience?

Resilient leaders do not let adversity define them. They tackle this adversity with their faith and belief in the worthy cause they established and commissioned with their teams. They find resilience by moving towards a goal beyond themselves, transcending pain and grief by perceiving bad times as a temporary state.

Resilient leaders reduce anxiety, renew faith and instil confidence by investing time and energy:

1. Taking responsibility of the situation

2. Frequently communicate about the nature and scope of the challenge

3. Focus on 2-3 important goals which will reboot the organization

4. Devising plans to navigate the organization out of the adversity

5. Communicate the role of every individual/vertical in the resilience journey

Albert Camus best describes what it feels like to be resilient -
"In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer."

But resilience is not easy,

Developing Resilience

Earlier in the article I illustrated how fired up neurons wire together to dictate (similar) responses in familiar situations.

These responses can be in the form of willingness (favourable) or denial/refusal/reluctance (unfavourable) in the face of adversity. Consistent exhibition of favourable responses increases the probability to face adversity. But unfavourable responses make people averse to challenges and difficult situations which can lay the foundation of personality.

The focus of this section is on developing resilience by rewiring our brain to exhibit a favourable response. But rewiring is not easy; it requires consistent investment of time and energy in various disciplines.


Mental Discipline: Cultivating mental discipline helps you to ignore the irrelevant. During adverse situations all (small or big) problems are vying for attention. By focusing (rewiring) on your wildly important goals (WIGS) you are actually working your way out of adversity.

  •  How to develop?: Identify your top 2-3 wildly important goals and devote most of your time towards its accomplishment


Physical Discipline: People have reported cases of increased blood pressure, insufficient sleep, weight gain etc when faced with adversity. Operating in adversity takes a toll on your body and inhibits you from giving your best. A healthy and rejuvinated body enables you to commit full energy towards accomplishment of  your goals.

  •  How to develop?: Good sleep, eat a nutritious diet and exercise regularly


Social Discipline: The quality of your relationships influence your response in adverse situations. The more quality social support you can draw upon from your family and friends, the more resilient you can be in adverse situations.

  •  How to develop?: Regularly spend quality time with people who support and think good about you.


Spiritual Discipline: Spirituality is a journey where we discover the very essence of our being and where we experience a certain connectedness with a larger reality. Adversity has the ability to take us to place full of remorse, pain and despair. Spirituality has the power to connect us to our true self thereby fueling our fire to overcome adversity.

  •  How to develop?: Meditate for 15-20 minseveryday in the morning.


Emotional Discipline: When faced with adversity emotions run bersek forcing us to behave in an unfavourable manner. An emotionally disciplined leader is not only able to perceive and understand emotions but also manage them.

  •  How to develop?: Spend time reflecting on the different emotions that you encountered during the day. Maintaining a personal diary acts
     as a good reflection tool.


Financial Discipline: An important resource that keeps the company operational. Maintaining the financial health of the company should be a key priority of the leader because  everything else is dependent on this vital ingredient.

  •  How to develop?: Focus on maintaining a healthy debt equity, profitbaility ratio and staying true to your Vision and Mission clearly
     understanding what is not to be done.


The essence of developing resilience is best described by Johnathan Jena

“When darkness falls, beauty is lit from within.”


Rajan Kaicker

Co-author of the #1 Bestseller, The 4 Disciplines of Execution
Executive Chairman & Managing Director
Franklin Covey India & South Asia

Opinions expressed by the Contributors are their own and do not reflect any opinion of IL&FS Financial Services on the said subject

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