Ditch the Wonder Woman complex. Resilience is what you need


Learning the power of managing your energy is key to great female leadership. Don’t try to be a superheroine, writes Liz Mellon

It must be hard to go into work every day knowing that the odds are stacked against you as a woman. You are facing a primarily male-dominated environment and you know all the statistics about lack of advancement opportunities, unconscious or hidden discrimination and lower pay for doing the same job as a man. Dispiriting! But at least you know the odds – so you know what you’re working with. And you also know that resilience is likely to be your biggest asset – the ability to bounce back when you face adversity.

But like many simple words, delivering is a whole lot tougher. What is resilience? Based on my research, I think it’s only one part of a more complex equation.


Thriving in business today definitely takes endurance. The ride in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (Vuca) world is a lot more unpredictable than it used to be and, given the lengthening lifespan of the human race, it’s also likely to last a lot longer than it used to. As such, the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity is a more challenging concept than just getting your head down and keeping going. It needs some finessing.

Resilience is core to the endurance formula because you need to bounce back when you face setbacks. As a runner, I speak from personal experience when I say that it’s a bit like running a marathon, because we need recovery time for our lungs, muscles and bones. But it’s not enough on its own. We also need adaptability, because constantly changing circumstances mean that we won’t bounce back in exactly the same shape. Our muscles may be stronger, but we may have a pulled tendon to manage. Whatever the differences, our physiology won’t be exactly the same and we need to be able to work just as well, or better, in our new form. And we also need perseverance. This gives us the energy, and the stickability, to keep going until we achieve our goals. It’s the equivalent of the sport jellybeans you eat in the last five miles of a marathon, to keep you going. And all of this, the whole equation, is underpinned by our reserves. If we have built reserves, we can sustain ourselves a whole lot longer. If we are running on empty, the whole equation could crumble at the first hurdle. Let’s focus on our resilience and on building our reserves. So how do we do this?

Psychological resilience is an individual’s capacity to cope with stress and adversity. An individual may suffer from stress and bounce back, or be resistant to stress and not suffer negative effects at all. The main point is that resilience is a process, not a personality trait.