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Leadership Resilience: The Art of Bouncing Back

How Do You Respond to Failure?

“Some of the most important and insightful learning is far more likely to come from failures than from success.” ~ Former Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley interviewed in Harvard Business Review (April 2011)

How we respond to failures and bounce back from our mistakes can make or break our careers. Resilience is key to successful leadership. The wisdom of learning from failure is undeniable, yet individuals and organizations rarely seize opportunities to embrace these hard-earned lessons.

Leadership guru and author John C. Maxwell put it this way, "The more you do, the more you fail. The more you fail, the more you learn. The more you learn, the better you get."

Harvard business professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter is unequivocal: “One difference between winners and losers is how they handle losing.” Even for the best companies and most accomplished professionals, long track records of success are inevitably marred by slips and fumbles.

Kanter has written many stories from business and sports about resilience in Confidence: How Winning Streaks and Losing Streak Begin and End

Our response to failure is often counterproductive: Behaviors become bad habits that set the stage for continued losses. Just as success creates positive momentum, failure can feed on itself. Add uncertainty and rapidly fluctuating economics to the mix, and one’s ability to find the right course is sorely tested.

Long-term winners and losers face the same ubiquitous problems, but they respond differently. Attitudes help determine whether problem-ridden businesses will ultimately recover.

Luckily, most of us can learn to become more resilient with training and coaching.

The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

Take the example of two typical MBA graduates who were laid off from their positions during a recent recession. Both were distraught. Being fired provoked feelings of sadness, listlessness, indecisiveness, and anxiety about the future.

For one, the mood was transient. Within two weeks he was telling himself, “It’s not my fault; it’s the economy. I’m good at what I do, and there’s a market for my skills.” He updated his resume and, after several failed attempts, finally landed a position.

The other spiraled further into hopelessness. “I got fired because I can’t perform well under pressure,” he lamented. “I’m not cut out for finance; the economy will take years to recover.” Even after the market improved, he was reluctant to apply for positions and feared rejection.

How these individuals handled failure illustrates the opposite ends of the spectrum. Some people bounce back after a brief period of malaise and grow from their experiences. Others go from sadness to depression to crippling fear of failure—and in business, inertia and fear of risk invite collapse.

We are again in uncertain times when the next failure may be just around the corner. The news carries daily reports of businesses that are shutting their doors permanently. Locally, the Asheville metro area (Buncombe County, Henderson, Haywood + Madison) lost 36,400 jobs in the month of April. This is a drop of 18.3% compared to April 2019. It's worth spending some time learning how you can become more resilient.

I would love to have a conversation with you about resilience.

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