“The true measure of a man is not how he behaves in moments of comfort and convenience but how he stands at times of controversy and challenges.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.


I had the pleasure of attending the YWCA Resilient Leaders conference yesterday in Cleveland. .
One thing is clear; a cornerstone of leadership is resiliencethe ability to cope with stress and adversity.

What is less clear but crucial for us to figure out, is how human beings become resilient.  Psychologists have identified some of the factors that make someone resilient:

  • Positive attitude
  • Optimism
  • The ability to regulate emotions
  • The ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback
  • Positive self-talk
  • Having dealt with adversity and survived

These are all individual characteristics or experiences, but what drives those?  Are they choices?  Habits?  Longstanding messages we play from a recording in our memories?

Sure, genetics drive some of this, but what we CAN affect is nurture and choices we make, for our children and ourselves.

Great early childhood programs help children grow to be resilient (e.g., http://hannaperkins.org/ , http://www.thecentersohio.org/).  Toddlers and preschoolers need to get in the habit of managing their emotions and learning from failure (i.e., not beating themselves up).  Engaged parents need to get in the habit of understanding (vs judging or fixing) their kids and helping them fill their recorded loops of memory (the little voices in our heads) with kind messages.  This is the right start, and the foundation for resilience.  Parents are key.

The most resilient adults I know – from young professionals ready to change the world, to new mothers managing new stress, to CEOs with many people depending on them, to vibrant retirees making 80 look like 50 – are networked and working for a greater good.  Stumbling when you can still see your north star and there are friends to help you up is not as big of a deal.  Networked people can emerge from adversity stronger.  Knowing that someone understands/feels with you (not sorry for you, but with you) also helps encourage you when it’s time to take a risk.

Now, this IS good news because here is a choice we can make – to nurture these relationships with others, so that when they stumble or we do (it’s inevitable), we are there.  Even in the giving, we gain.  Perspective is vital to resilience, and nothing gives us perspective more than helping other people.  Although we can’t solve all of the issues, we don’t have to.  It’s enough to know we are not alone.  “Power networking” has a whole new meaning in this context.  It’s not about selling anyone anything, including yourself.  It’s about finding, holding dear, and allocating time for family/friends/colleagues who care about you and visa versa.

At the heart of resilience then…..swirling around great, resilient leaders, is…..you guessed it…..a currency of empathy.

Who helps YOU be resilient?  What are you able to DO with resilience?


With resilience I….”can do more than I ever dreamed possible.”

– Sharon Sobol Jordan, CEO of the Centers for Families and Children, in the YWCA’s Women’s Book, 2012-2013 Northeast Ohio Edition


“We grow old all at once
And it comes like a punch
In the gut, in the back, in the face
When it seems someone’s lied
And our parents have died
Then we hold onto each other in their place

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An Antidote to Our Empathy Deficit Disorder


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