Leadership Resilience - Optimism and Resilience

by Brusman, Dr. Maynard Thursday, October 27, 2011
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I was recently working with one of my San Francisco Bay Area executive coaching clients – the CEO of a boutique hotel and restaurant company. We had a deep and reflective coaching conversation about how his company bounced back from two recessions. We talked about how he was able to work through his personal distress and low mood.

My executive coaching client and I further discussed how a leader’s emotions are contagious. I am coaching my client to help his employees become more resilient and create a culture of positivity.

Optimism and Resilience

Research clearly demonstrates that people who are naturally resilient have an optimistic explanatory style—that is, they explain adversity in optimistic terms to avoid falling into helplessness.


Those who refuse to give up routinely interpret setbacks as temporary, local and changeable:
  • • “The problem will resolve quickly…”
  • • “It’s just this one situation…”
  • • “I can do something about it…”
In contrast, individuals who have a pessimistic explanatory style respond to failure differently. They habitually think setbacks are permanent, universal and immutable:
  • • “Things are never going to be any different...”
  • • “This always happens to me...”
  • • “I can’t change things, no matter what...”
University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Martin P. Seligman believes most people can be immunized against the negative thinking habits that may tempt them to give up after failure. In fact, 30 years of research suggests that we can learn to be optimistic and resilient—often by changing our explanatory style.

Seligman is currently testing this premise with the U.S. Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, a large-scale effort to make soldiers as psychologically fit as they are physically fit. One key component is the Master Resilience Training course for drill sergeants and other leaders, which emphasizes positive psychology, mental toughness, use of existing strengths and building strong relationships.

This military program will no doubt provide insights for civilians who wish to become more effective within their workplaces and organizations.

Are you working in a professional services firm or other organization where executive coaches provide leadership development to grow emotionally intelligent leaders?
Does your organization provide executive coaching for leaders who need to bounce back from adversity? Resilient leaders tap into their emotional intelligence and social intelligence skills to create an adaptable culture.

One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “Do I have an optimistic explanatory style?” Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching as part of their peak performance leadership development program.