Dark Side of Resilient Leadership

Dark Side of Resilient Leadership


I recently read Dr Tomas Chamorro and David Lusk’s work in the Harvard business Review about the “ dark side of resilience”. It talked about how excessive resilience has a negative effect on our relationships, work and personal well being and can be detrimental in the long run. I was inspired to write this article in correspondence with the ongoing worldwide pandemic and uncertainty where, it is more than necessary to develop skills of resilience to overcome these difficult times. But the question that arises is how much resilience is too much?


The idea of resilience in human behaviour originated from material science where it describes the property of a material to resume to its original shape after distortion or stress. Resilience is in fact a metaphor. It is less about who you are and more about what you think. Therefore, resilience can be described as the capacity to adapt to stressful circumstances, and bounce back from adverse events. According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is the process of adapting in the face of adversity, tragedy, threats and significant source of stress- such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems and workplace and financial stressor. As we grow older, we tend to develop resilience. A study conducted by Ann Masten and Norman Garmezy after 9/11 found that most individual when exposed whether directly or indirectly to terrorism or other large scale problems did not show severe trauma but exhibited remarkable resilience. This study clearly shows that resilience is not a single trait but several individual characteristics that are acquired during development years of an individual, such as intelligence, the big five personality traits, high self efficacy, internal locus of control and psychological flexibility, that serve as a predictors of resilience in an individual. This is one of the reasons why resilience is the most sought after characteristics in leaders of an organisation. It will determine how well will they lead their teams and face emerging obstacles.


A high level of resilience will distinguish a leader in any group, it allows him to deal with situations more effectively, and lead his team with courage. Even though personality has no true zero, or an ideal prototype, there are some characteristics which, if possessed, makes one an eminent leader. These characteristics are universal, and lay a basic foundation in one’s leadership capabilities. A successful leader will possess the skills of resilience and resourcefulness in a copious manner. They need these qualities to run a business. When leaders have the perseverance of going on in tough times, it is then they are able to turn a crisis into a breakthrough. Resilience as a trait will help a leader analyse what strategy has worked in the past and what hasn’t and apply it to future goals.  A leader shows strength of character and contextual intelligence to assess the  problem as well as encourage the employees to embrace the obstacles in front of them to learn and grow. Watching their superior solve problems and face adversity with a strong head tends to motivate the people to work harder. We know that resilience is a necessity for becoming a successful leader, but we need to know how to mange resilience and prevent it from becoming unhealthy.



It is proven that highly resilient leaders have the potential to become overly persistent. They may push themselves, and the people around them to meet unattainable goals, resulting in a colossal waste of time and resources. This persistence is based on ” False Hope Syndrome”, and does not yield results in the end. An overly resilient leader will chase goals that may be unrealistic or too ambitious

High resilience in leaders can also get in the way of effective leadership. According to Dr. Chamorro’s TED Talk on ‘Why so many incompetent men become leaders’, bold and overly resilient leaders often overestimate their capabilities and take decisions that might be too ambitious, without taking the abilities and the skills of their teams into consideration. According to him, many of these resilient leaders do not have any real talent for leadership.

A leader should be chosen based on their competence and not confidence. We are unable to resist the allure of a narcissistic personality and tend to choose a leader based on our initial perception, but charisma is not the only requirement.


To be a successful leader, it is important to display a high Emotional Intelligence. According to Daniel Goleman’s model of EQ, the five components are; self-awareness, empathy, motivation, social skills, and self-regulation. In the present times of a global pandemic, people are facing an array of difficulties such as deteriorating mental health and a plummeting economy, making them insecure of their jobs, therefore it is important for the lead to demonstrate a higher social intelligence rather than solely focusing on targets and goals in this time of need.

An efficient leader is able to create a balance between problem-focused and emotion-focused techniques, rather than abiding by any one of them. This will allow a leader to make sound decisions, taking into account his/her employees, as well as its consequences. Informed from Dr. Chamorro and Lusk’s article, being a good leader does not mean that one has to face adversity with courage, if he feels that he is unable to solve the problem on his own, rather than being overly resilient, an effective leader takes a step back and seeks help from others who would be better equipped at solving the problem at hand.


A leader is driven by his goals that are often a product of passion, and this is what makes a leader, a role model for many who work under him. This passion drives him to pursue his goal, which can sometimes serve to satisfy one’s overachieving ego. This may compel leaders to set irrational and unachievable goals, which negatively affects the people under him. A leader should know how much push his team can handle. He must consider the growth of his employees, and their learning outcomes, and not make them participate in a blind chase that may not contribute to their success at all. The fear of losing face in front of one’s employees and oneself often drives leaders to undertake ambitious goals that can later turn out to have detrimental consequences. Therefore, it is important for a leader to approach tasks holistically, carefully weighing the pros and cons, instead of getting blinded by personal ambition.

Often becoming a role model for his subordinates, a leader’s resilience has the ability to motivate the employees to work as hard as he does. But, being overly resilient and forcing employees to achieve an unattainable goal can have the opposite effect, leading to a reduction in motivation.


On the other hand, for the employees having higher resilience can mean being overly tolerant of adversity. This may include keeping up with their boring and demoralising jobs, or staying in hard and difficult situations for too long, all of which has the potential to inflict damage to one’s mental well being. Drawing a parallel to the present times of a global pandemic, with the loss of operating capacity, capitals and profits, market share and credibility, we may say high resilience among the people is what will keep the ship afloat but keeping a balance between this resilience to work and maintaining personal well being is what should matter more. Hence we can learn to develop healthy resilience by using the following tools.


To build a capacity for resilience, we should use the following strategies:

  1. Build Connections: being around understanding and apathetic people can help understand that we are not alone in a crisis. Joining a group such a faith based community or a civic group or any other type of local organisation can provide us with the necessary social support that is required to face a problem.
  2. Foster wellness: this can include taking care of your body. A healthy body means a healthy mind that is important to build resilience. Having a positive lifestyle can help us deal with stress effectively. Another way to improve ones’ wellness is to practice mindfulness. Meditating and engaging in other spiritual practices makes us ruminate on all the things that we are grateful for thus helps us keep a positive outlook on life which in turn makes us more resilient
  3. Finding purpose: we can find our purpose by engaging in prosocial behaviour, moving towards your goals that are ambitions but at the same time realistic and by looking for opportunities for self-discovery to understand your strengths and weaknesses better.
  4. Embracing healthy thoughts: we can do this by accepting change, keeping things in perspective, maintain a hopeful outlook for problems and learning from our pasts. These will help us be optimistic towards the problem and hence increase our resilience to face it.
  5. Seek help: Using ones own resources and strengths is one of the ways to build resilience but sometimes we might get stuck or have a difficulty on this road of resilience that may require help from others. We should not be ashamed of seeking a professional help from a licensed mental health expert  or ones friends or family. We should remember that we are to alone and seeking help to solve problems should be considered a good options.


  • Resilience is the ability to adapt to stressful circumstances and bounce back in the face of adversity.
  • Resilience is one of the most sought after qualities in a leader.  A resilient leader will be able to face problems with courage and also help the people under him grow.
  • Having a higher than normal emotional quotient is a necessity to be a successful leader. It will help the leader understand his own emotions as well as the emotions of the people around him and. This will help make rational decisions and develop a healthy amount of resilience.
  • A leader should be chosen of the bias of their competence rather than their confidence. An incompetent leader can be overly persistent which can hinder workplace productivity.
  • Resilience can be built overtime by leveraging some strategies and tools such a building connections with loved ones, taking care of ones’ mental and physical health, practicing mindfulness, and seeking help when in need.
Author : Aarushi Sharma, Intern, Boma India

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