Resiliency – How to Build It

Resiliency as defined by Webster’s dictionary is  – ‘The ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change’.  It can also be defined as the ability to bounce back from setbacks and move forward.

We all know people who are resilient – they suffer personal tragedy or career setbacks and they bounce back.  Sometimes, they take a whole new course in life or simply adjust to their circumstances with an optimistic outlook.  Sadly, we also know people who get stuck.  For these people, there seems to be no hope and they despair until circumstances change or not.

As Diane Coutu suggests in her May 2002, HBR article, How Resilience Works, “Resilient people, possess three characteristics: a staunch acceptance of reality; a deep belief, often buttressed by strongly held values, that life is meaningful; and an uncanny ability to improvise. You can bounce back from hardship with just one or two of these qualities, but you will only be truly resilient with all three.”

In today’s business world, this is a hot, hot topic.  Why?  Change is constant and we have a multigenerational, diverse workforce who expect different things from their employers.  We also face near constant change everywhere.  Technology and social media have made our lives very different.  Work and life are often blurred.   With the federal workforce facing unpaid leave, and with mergers and acquisition leaving people unemployed, uncertainty is everywhere.

In 2010, Barbara Davis of Change Results Consulting wrote a white paper on resiliency that describes six encouragers of resiliency and four discouragers.  From her research, Davis developed a method to identify encouragers and discouragers that can be described and developed.


  • Bounces Back from Setbacks
  • Faces Reality and Acts
  • Responds Flexibly
  • Experiments and Innovates
  • Finds Meaning in the Work
  • Expects and Encourages Resiliency


  • Rescuing
  • Reassuring
  • Reacting
  • Rigidity

Her premise is that you can build any competency including one as complex as resiliency. So how do you build resiliency?   The most pragmatic way is through identifying the encouragers and the discouragers of resiliency.  Once identified, building a plan to leverage strengths and work on a weakness – similar to the Career Architect from Lominger.  It is not as simple as it sounds but there are tools available to help leaders build the resiliency on their teams.  The key to building resiliency is to reinforce optimistic yet realistic behaviors and increase adaptability.  For more on resiliency, you should review the literature and case studies at  For more on building resiliency, visit

By Caroline Hanover

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