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How managers become leaders: Resilience

4 min read


Have you ever known someone who was a manager, but not a “leader?” Have you ever known someone, or even worked for someone, who simply couldn’t make a decision?

Oh my, how performance-disabling, if not toxic, they were! They sidetrack organizational initiatives often becoming a human bottleneck prohibiting success. They demoralize subordinates by being unable to see opportunities for excellence and growth. They manage so as not to lose, rather than lead so as to win.

So what’s wrong? My colleagues and I discovered that managers who failed at leadership were those who lacked the ability to make difficult decisions. Difficult decisions are usually those where the risk of failure is significant and or the failure itself seems catastrophic.

So what resides at the core of such indecisiveness? Contrary to that taught in many management textbooks, I believe it is a lack of resilience. In order to make a difficult decision, it is necessary to believe in one’s ability to rebound from failure should it occur. Resilient people are those who in the wake of adversity and failure rise like the Phoenix to greater strength than before.

Resilient leaders are able to take the risks of leadership because they know they are more likely than others to be able to rebound should the decision prove problematic. Said another way, resilient leaders are able to take the risks associated with success because they don’t view the decisions as being a risk!

OK, so if having a belief in your own resilience is important in becoming a leader, what is it that can help people develop resilience? There are at least five core factors in human resilience. One of the most important that we observed in resilient leaders appears to be a core set of pro-social values that guide their decision-making. There are corporate values, societal values, and personal values. Hopefully they all converge.

A clash of values is a well-known source of stress and dysfunction. If you start with solid core personal values, your ability to be resilient will transcend settings. Our research has pointed to honesty and integrity as values that are associated with resilient leadership and a less stressful organizational climate. Resilient leaders are leaders that can create an organizational climate that fosters innovation and longevity.

Warren Buffett is quoted as once saying, “In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.” Need we mention Bernard Madoff, Kenneth Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, or Bernie Ebbers?

Integrity in others creates a sense of safety and inspires the trust necessary to follow the lead of another, especially in challenging situations.

In order to assist aspiring leaders in decision-making, my colleagues and I created a simple values-based prescriptive formula for self-analysis before making difficult decisions.

The INTEGRITY FORMULA consists of five simple questions that you would ask yourself before making a challenging decision:

  1. Am I being deceptive?
  2. What are the most likely unintended consequences of my decision?
  3. Does my action hurt anyone?
  4. Would I be uncomfortable if those I love learned of my actions (spouse, children, parents, etc)?
  5. Would I be hurt or angry if someone did this to me?

Remember Gandhi’s warning, “There are seven things that will destroy us: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Religion without sacrifice; Politics without principle; Science without humanity; Business without ethics.”

Armed with a moral compass as an aid in decision-making — coupled with an inherent belief in your own resilience — the leader in you will emerge as a leader moving forward when everyone else is retreating.

George S. Everly, Jr., PhD, FAPA, is one of the founding fathers of the modern era of stress management. He is the author of numerous books and research papers. He serves on the faculties of The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He is a co-author of “STRONGER: Develop the Resilience You Need to Succeed” (AMACOM, 2015). For more information, visit

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