Are you ‘stupidly resilient’?

I was interviewed by ABC Radio Melbourne’s Libbi Gorr on her Health and Wellness show yesterday about leveraging leadership through Energy, Attitude and Mindset.  One of the callers to the show asked about what to do when there is in an imbalance of leadership i.e. one person is carrying more than their fair share.  It made me think about this question: can we be too resilient?

Organisations often contact me because they want to ‘help our people be more resilient’.  Unfortunately, they see developing resilience as the golden bullet, when it’s actually just a Band-Aid for deeper, systemic issues, such as leadership and culture.  But resilience is held up as a panacea – something we should all aim to be.

So, is being more resilient really the answer?

Resilience is defined as the ability to bounce back in the face of adversity and challenge.  If we apply the ideas of post-traumatic growth, we can go even further than that, and add expectations of learning and growth through adversity.  It seems a lot to ask, and there are high expectations of leaders when it comes to resilience.  Social biologists suggest that within any group, expect leaders to be ‘the most resilient’ as they have had to ‘win’ their position (think political campaigns or the journey to the C-Suite).  

In working with my clients – and in my own experience – I find that resilience is often more about dealing with a constant level of challenge over an extended period of time.  The goal is to keep enough of yourself above water to survive until things get better.

But what if they don’t get better?  At what point does resilience become ‘stupid’?

Studies suggest there is a ‘too-much-of-a good-thing’ factor that exists with things that on face value appear to be positive, but once they reach a tipping point start to have a negative effect.  Interestingly, leadership is amongst these (but that’s a whole other blog!), and I believe resilience is too.

As much as we consider having ‘big hairy audacious goals’ (BHAGs) as desirable, there is evidence that pursuing unrealistic and/or unattainable goals can be a waste of time, effort and energy. Equally, putting up with low-level adversity – circumstances and conditions that are unpleasant and draining – is not productive.  And this is where resilience becomes ‘stupid’.


How do you know if you’re at risk of ‘stupid resilience’?

There are certain attitudes and mindsets that may predispose you to stupid resilience.

  • You believe that you are highly resilient
  • You consider yourself to be conscientious and diligent
  • You like to ‘get things done’ and ‘see things through’
  • You find it hard to ask for help
  • You believe that not coping is a sign of ‘weakness’
  • You don’t feel safe to speak up

There’s no doubt that resilience and the learning and growth that can come through adversity are valuable for leadership, but we need to recognise the tipping point from ‘useful’ to ‘stupid’ resilience and speak up and this may mean a shift in attitudes and mindsets.

As leaders, we need to do this for ourselves so that we have the energy to sustain good leadership, and just as important, we need to look for stupid resilience in others – our people, peers and colleagues – and speak with and up for them.

Want to learn more about resilience for you and your team?

Click here to find out more about my Bouncing Back and Beyond workshop.

Copyright 2019: Dr Paige Williams

Paige Williams, PhD

Paige Williams, PhD

Speaker, Author, Mentor, Coach

Paige helps leaders leverage their leadership to lead teams that deliver and create culture that feeds high performance.

Leveraging Leadership for positive purposeful impact.