Personal and Organisational Resilience – The Women’s Angle

It is an inescapable output of the lifetimeswork research into personal and organisational resilience that women rate their own resilience lower than men do. Only 43% of the female leaders interviewed in the lifetimeswork research rated their own resilience as above the 8/10 level; 63% of the men did.

This was both surprising and irritating to me – how is it that men feel they are better at this than us when we do so much?!

But when I listened deeply to my inner voice, and to that of other women, I have had to admit that it is probably very true. It seems that although women take on and manage so much, they often do so at a high personal cost; male leaders do not experience the same levels of cost.

The other puzzler for me was that I had experienced a dip in my confidence in business post maternity, whilst at the same time experiencing a significant increase in my resiliency. I had previously thought the two went hand in hand, but here they were almost directly opposite. How do confidence and resiliency relate?

The research interviews with 25 leaders across different sectors gave me a deep insight into resiliency and how it links to organisational resilience. I’m delighted to share it with you. The good news is that for both women – and for men – this transformative- no-cost-resiliency can be learnt.

The Definition of Resilience
Resilience is widely known as the ability to overcome setbacks. What seems less known are the attributes assigned with the highest resilience: speed of the bounce back; the integration of learnings from the setback, and the ability to apply their resilience no matter the context. Then amazingly there is a further level, a transformative level, where a person converts an extreme challenge into an opportunity and achieves good outcomes from the setback even in the face of extreme loss. I found this astonishing.

Altogether, these insights give rise to a very powerful definition of Resilience:
Resilience= (Bounce back * Speed) + Energy Recovered + Learning + Application to other contexts.

There was general agreement across the leaders interviewed that 50% of organisational resilience relies on the resilience of the Senior Management Team. There are a further 6 elements necessary for organisational resilience: consistency; a consensus, inclusive and collaborative culture; a learning culture; an emotional contract between the organisation and the employee; an organisation had to explicitly deal with challenges to resilience such as stress and workload; and finally, not hiding difficulties or ambiguity from staff.

The Resilience Engine©
The major research finding of how to build this transformative level of resiliency is the concept of the Resilience Engine©. The engine is made up of an inner source of fuel, the Internal Resources, and an outer force, the External Goal Focus, with a driving motor creating the energy between the two. The inner source of fuel and the outer force are stable, non moveable components. The driving motor, termed the Adaptive Capacity, moves continuously. The integration of this whole engine, the maintenance and nurturing of it, and the continuous development implied by it, is what makes resilience transformative.

The Internal Resources ‘2+7+1’ formula describes a very specific power pack inside. The ‘2’ Beliefs are belief in one’s own judgement and in a purpose for oneself; the ‘7’ attitudes are taking full responsibility for self; forgiving; having a self deprecating humour; being both optimistic and pragmatic; being both independent and needs others; and the final ‘1’ which is complete self acceptance. It’s a rich mix. The combination makes for an unexpected situation which came across many times in the leaders interviewed: the combination didn’t mean defacto confidence. In fact many of the leaders described their confidence as shaky. For example in their own ability within their organisation to compete. Or that they believed in their own judgement, but were not at all confident about how to influence others of the value of that judgement. This is the reason for using the term Self Acceptance and not Self Belief, the latter of which is so often interchanged with the word confidence.

Self -acceptance is one of the areas where women rated themselves lower than the men. Women find it more difficult to accept the reality of who they are versus the expectations that they place upon themselves. Another issue for women is the need to be liked – this gets in the way of really accepting oneself, and instead effort goes into pleasing others.

The External Goal Focus component of the Resilience Engine© is all about being so outcome focussed that the individual will solve all problems in the way of the goal. The real mindset here is the openness to solutions coming from unexpected places. For a number of women this raises the difficult issue of competing needs, how do you focus ruthlessly on a few?

The Adaptive Capacity is the most difficult part of the Resilience Engine© to grasp, believe and adopt. This is a sophisticated blending of Perspective, Supporting Oneself and Pacing. Supporting Oneself is actively supporting one’s ability to self refresh; those with the highest resilience do this without fail. This is particularly difficult for women to integrate since they place their own energies at the bottom of the priority pile. It can be a 180 degree shift to do this.

The most difficult element for any leader, and especially for women, is Pacing. It’s where an individual manages their load accordingly to their capacity on a continuous basis. The result is a steady state use of energy (a surprising average of 65%!!) rather than high peaks and troughs. Dependencies are ruthless prioritisation and saying no often.

Overall for women there is a big growing up to be done around accepting of our own capacity, of putting ourselves at the top of the refresh pile (in order to then maintain capacity to do so much), and to really accept ourselves and our own value and purpose as vital.

So what now.
It’s clear the Personal and Organisational Resilience is a vital attribute for successful leadership. And that those with the highest resilience don’t take it for granted. As the psychologist John Leary Joyce said, ‘Reassurance is ineffective’. Or as Lewis Lyell, BT Senior Director said ‘You get what you work for’. I commend you work on your own resilience and the resilience of your senior team. It will pay off. Here are my top 5 recommendations for doing this:

  • Respect the need for resiliency, don’t take it for granted
  • Be prepared to work at a deep, attitudinal level in yourself
  • Don’t allow space for any false confidence – only real truth helps
  • As a women, pay attention to the areas of self acceptance, your own capacity and refreshing yourself.
  • Become a great learner

©Jenny Campbell


The summary document on Personal and Organisational Resilience can be found here


Jenny is director of lifetimeswork and has been working as an executive coach since 2002. Her coaching experience spans senior leaders, groups and teams in organisations such as S&N, BT, NHS, Scottish Agricultural College, Scottish Courage, Falkirk Council and she has mentored a number of startup companies such as Yakara and Rhetorical. Jenny has established a reputation as an intuitive, professional and stretching coach and facilitator. She has seventeen years of experience working in a variety of senior commercial and change management roles in BT, O2, BP Oil Europe, and as a Strategy/Leadership consultant. She is comfortable understanding leadership issues and is driven by a people centred philosophy in the creation of value. She has lived in both Paris and Lausanne, and has worked internationally in Europe and the USA. She runs lifetimeswork, a coaching and development consultancy set up in 2002.

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