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Leading in Turbulent Times

Debunking resilience myths: Tools for personal and leadership growth

IbyIMD+8 December 2023 • by Jennifer Jordan, Francesca Giulia Mereu in Leading in Turbulent Times

Methods to gain a more realistic and accurate understanding of resilience and develop the specific skills you need to lead through turbulent times....

In a quest to debunk common myths surrounding resilience, we joined forces to explore the nuanced nature of resilience. Our Leading in Turbulent Times session shed light on some of the potential risks to psychological well-being while providing a more pragmatic and precise understanding of resilience. Below, we delve into some of the misconceptions and the tools for effective leadership during challenging periods.

Dispelling myths about resilience

Myth 1: Resilience is a solo endeavor

One prevalent myth is that resilience is something individuals must navigate alone and asking for support is a sign of weakness. While it is true that how we respond and learn from events is a personal choice, strong relationships play a crucial role in nourishing resilience. The ability to forge connections that mirror our strengths and provide support is equally significant.

Myth 2: “What does not kill you makes you stronger”

This old adage is a myth often perpetuated without context, labeled as “post-traumatic growth”. In fact, research indicates that, immediately after a traumatic event, the majority of individuals become more vulnerable. The assumption that strength emerges immediately following the event oversimplifies the complex journey to resilience. True growth, likened to the maturation of grapes into fine wine, occurs over time and brings a deeper awareness and connection to life.

Myth 3: Resilience means bouncing back

Contrary to this idea, resilience actually involves a dynamic process of continuous adaptation. Resilience is multifaceted, encompassing more than just a return to a previous state. The emphasis should be on bouncing forward – evolving and transforming in response to adversity.

Myth 4: True resilience eradicates daily struggles

The idea that genuine resilience means no longer grappling with daily issues is a misconception. Grief and resilience follow non-linear trajectories, with individuals experiencing progress and regress. The well-known Kübler-Ross grief cycle illustrates that people move through stages like denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In reality, we know from research that the process does not happen linearly; some people skip stages or go back and forth as emotions ebb and flow.

Chameleon adaption leaders
“Resilience isn’t just about bouncing back; it’s a dynamic process of continuous adaptation.”

The question then arises: what allows you to go from trauma to growth?

Tools for developing resilience

  1. Journaling for cognitive understanding

Using a journal as a tool for processing events provides perspective, allowing individuals to differentiate themselves from what happened. Journaling, whether written, spoken, or recorded, reduces stress by externalizing worries, fostering a calmer mindset.

  1. Connecting with others

Building relationships with individuals who have undergone similar experiences is a powerful tool for resilience. This connection offers validation, empathy, and understanding, creating a supportive community.

  1. Naming your emotions

Each time we tell our ‘story’– to ourselves or others – identifying and labeling emotions is a crucial step. It enhances self-awareness and equips individuals to regulate their emotions consciously, fostering mindfulness and self-acceptance without judgment.

  1. Taking care of daily well-being

Prioritizing daily well-being, including maintaining healthy routines, exercising, and getting enough sleep, builds a resilient foundation. These practices contribute to adaptability during major life changes.

  1. Energy check with an anonymous online tool

Using tools like the anonymous online tool Energy Check helps assess and improve how individuals recharge their batteries, ensuring a sustainable approach to well-being.

Identifying and asking the right questions and deploying the best approaches for you, can unlock learning—and solutions that work for you.
Leaders can support individuals going through trauma by actively listening to their stories

Leaders should also develop tools to help others build resilience and cope with trauma, not least because leaders play a crucial role in fostering a work environment that promotes the well-being and mental health of their team members.

Tools for leaders supporting others

  1. Active listening

Leaders can support individuals going through trauma by actively listening to their stories. This validates experiences, communicates empathy, and fosters a shared understanding.

  1. Avoiding empty platitudes

Leaders should refrain from offering clichéd expressions like, “Everything happens for a reason,” or, “I understand.” Such platitudes may inadvertently downplay the severity of the individual’s experience, undermining their healing process. When you feel that the person might be ready, ask questions like, “If you were to imagine how you could grow from what happened, what would you say?”

  1. Avoid saying that trauma is a good thing

Leaders should never suggest that the trauma itself was good or a ‘blessing in disguise’. Doing so may invalidate the person’s current pain and overlook the profound impact of traumatic experiences on mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Wait for the person to mention the growth that came out of the challenges and only then encourage and reflect with them.

Key takeaways

Ultimately, resilience is not a solitary journey; it involves growing and learning from experiences with others. It embraces vulnerability and imperfection, bouncing forward – not back! – and in new directions over time. The key lies in recognizing that resilience is about continuous adaptation, learning, and evolving – a dynamic process rather than a static state. By debunking myths and embracing these tools, individuals can foster resilience for personal growth and effective leadership during turbulent times.


Jennifer Jordan

Jennifer Jordan

Social psychologist and Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behaviour at IMD

Jennifer Jordan is a social psychologist and Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at IMD. Jennifer’s teaching, research, and consulting focus on the areas of digital leadership, ethics, influence, and power. She has received specialized training and certifications in lie and truthfulness detection, as well as in conflict resolution within organizations. She is Program Director of the Women on Boards and the Leadership Essentials Course.

Francesca Giulia Mereu

Francesca Giulia Mereu

Executive coach

An executive coach with more than 20 years’ experience, Francesca Giulia Mereu is also author of the book Recharge Your Batteries. She regularly works with Frontline Humanitarian Negotiators (CCHN) and at IMD with senior leaders of global organizations. You can follow her LinkedIn Group on managing your energy here.

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