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How resilient are you? Two brief scenarios.

So Saed, the Sales lead just concluded a presentation in the management meeting. The feedback was not great. The board think his tactics were sloppy and will not deliver on stemming the tide of plummeting sales. And they are not alone on this. The head of Marketing and Finance share the same view. Saed is livid. And he swears it’s all the fault of his scheming colleagues that are out of touch with reality and customers.

Madalene is currently the CEO of a luxury retail chain with operations in Europe, the US, Middle East and Africa. Sales have plummeted as customers are doing less of luxury and more of essential value goods. Madalene has never witnessed such a tough period in her 25 years of experience in the retail business. She is currently at her wits end on getting the business back on track.

In my interactions with entrepreneurs, I have discovered that those who have managed businesses that stood the test of time had one thing in common; resilience. Our reactions to demanding circumstances or events actually depend on the degree of control we believe we can exercise.

Madalene is asking herself tough questions- she is not sure if she can still contribute meaningfully to saving the business or the situation is beyond her. On the other hand, if Saed continues to attribute criticism of his sales strategy to the “schemers”, he might fail to see the bigger picture which is focusing on the role he has to play in contributing to the company’s turnaround strategy.

To build resilience, what is required is focus. Focus on what you can control regarding the event or situation, focus on affecting the outcome, focus on limiting the damage and focusing on the desired outcome. The following questions if asked frequently and practiced often can help to identify ways to exercise control over circumstances, actions to take next which will ultimately build resilience into your repertoire of capabilities.   


The way we react to a demanding circumstance is subject to the degree of perceived control of the situation. Madalene and Saed do not feel in control in both scenarios. But asking these questions can help.

  • What aspects of the situation can I directly control to change the course of this adverse event?
  • What would the manager I respect the most do in this situation?
  • Who on the team can help and what’s the best way to engage that person or those people?


Perception of the degree of control is one. Another is the assumptions about why the negative event occurred in the first place. Did it happen as a result of our negligence or something totally independent of us? Saed attributed the rejection of his sales strategy to his “scheming and out of touch” colleagues rather than to the possible shortcomings of his presentation. Madalene felt incapable in the face of daunting challenges she’d never before encountered. So much so that it eclipsed her individual initiative. Rather than dwelling on misgivings, misfortunes, or victimization, resilient leaders can focus intently on how they can affect the event’s outcome. Managers should ask these questions:

  • How can I mobilize to make the most immediate, positive impact on this situation?
  • What positive effect might my efforts have on colleagues around me?
  • How can I lead the efforts of those who are less motivated?

These questions would raise Saed’s level of thinking beyond being defensive to seeing himself as being a strategic partner in the company’s recovery or comeback plan if you like. The rigorous assessment and questions raised by the board and colleagues were testament to how important his role is in charting the path to revival.  For Madalene, she knew all too well that her company’s fortunes depended on economic conditions—how she responds to the situation might just be the spark her direct reports needed. These questions would no doubt have helped both Saed and Madalene in focusing on the outcome.


What do the resilient managers do differently? They focus on how to limit the extent of the damage.  When you train your mind to ask certain questions, you will end up discovering opportunities in the midst of all the uncertainty.  Worrying about the root of the problem will do nothing to aid the current situation, and a better option is to redirect your focus on how to limit the damage. These questions include:

  • What can I do to reduce the potential downside of the situation even if marginal?
  • What can I do to maximize the potential upside of the situation even if marginal?
  • What does my team and I gain by addressing the situation?
  • What can be done individually, and what can we do collectively, to contain the damage and turn the situation around to opportunities?

Saed might have seen that he had a rare opportunity to gain valuable lessons and insights he could take back to his team and develop a more robust sales strategy. And Madalene will not be fixated on how deep the impact of the pandemic has been on the business but dwelling more on growth strategies such as evolving brands into new categories or even invent entirely new propositions.


Sometimes, tough seasons seems like it would never end. Restrictions on delivering full services, curfews, underperforming results month after month, quarter after quarter and the year is even about to end yet the pandemic does not seem like it’s going away anytime soon. Some tough times seem to have no end in sight. What do we do about it?  We choose to focus on the desired income by asking these questions.

  • What do I want life to look like on the other side of this adversity?
  • What can I do in the next few minutes, or hours, days or weeks to move in that direction?
  • Which steps can we take as a team, and what processes can we develop and adopt, to see us through to the other side?

These are the power of questions and how they can help build resilience with managers and business owners. What will you do differently after reading this? Take time out to internalize your answers to the questions. You need to be deliberate about this and reflect deeply. Take records of instances where your resilience was tested, how you fared and how you will approach a similar situation again.

And you also need to make this habitual. And the only way to pull that off is by doing this very often. As often as every day! Why? Because the essence of all this is to ensure that the next time difficult seasons or events surfaces, you’re well equipped to address the situation.

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