How Leaders Can Foster Resilience


A few years ago, I ran the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues, an office that assists U.S. citizens when their children are abducted to another country and when they are in the process of adopting children from overseas. The work we did was very stressful since we worked closely with often traumatized parents separated from their children by international borders. As a leader, I realized that I had to constantly foster the resilience of my team in order for us to accomplish our foreign policy goals.

If I did nothing, the stress of the work naturally eroded the resilience of the team. When resilience was low, we had lots of sick leave, didn’t collaborate because of inter and intra-office conflict, lacked innovation, and were reactive rather than proactive. Low resilience can have a compound effect leading to even lower resilience among staff as morale plummets and employees see no hope for the future. Great employees move on while others get stuck and their performance drops and misconduct increases.

Many managers approach this state of low productivity and misconduct with performance management measures, confronting employees and using traditional supervisory tools in an attempt to improve performance and reduce misconduct. However, if personal or team resilience is low, supervisory tools will have little impact. Employees may want to improve but cannot. Managers cannot force a group of employees to collaborate and work together as a team. I found that I could improve performance and conduct by focusing on increasing the resilience of team.

Here are some pointers for managers who want to foster resilience among their teams:

  • Model good personal resilience: Engage in resilience enhancing activities and talk about it among staff, letting them know why you prioritize these activities. A manager who works out during the lunch break or leaves work on time to pursue a hobby communicates to staff that these activities are important. If you don’t email after hours or work while on vacation, your staff won’t either and all of you will be more effective once you’re back at work.
  • Incorporate resilience enhancing activities into the work flow: Start staff meetings by going around the room and asking people to highlight what they are grateful for. Set up a jigsaw puzzle in the office so employees can rest their brains for a few minutes for a quick resilience boost. Have an inviting lunch room that encourages staff to eat lunch together, increasing social connectivity.
  • Treat resilience activities as work: Like training, engaging in resilience enhancing activities is an investment in future productivity. Therefore, managers would benefit from scheduling activities during normal work hours – not in the evenings or weekends. Organize events such as award ceremonies, celebrations of achievements, or volunteer activities.
  • Avoid a workaholic culture: Work long hours only if you need to because of a crisis or urgent need. Otherwise, make a point of encouraging 40 hour weeks, remembering that people who work 40 hours per week are more productive than people who work 60 hours per week. If you cannot avoid long work hours, actively manage the workload to build in breaks throughout the work day to provide short resilience boosts to avoid eroding resilience by over working.
  • Share stories: Encourage staff to share positive stories about their work which will ensure that all team members share a common culture and history. Actively bring new employees into your culture through a robust orientation process. Use events such as reward ceremonies and hail & farewell parties to reinforce your office identity and culture.
  • Mentor staff with low resilience: Earn the trust of your employees so that if you see someone displaying characteristics of low resilience, you can have an open and supportive conversation with that person. Ask open ended questions, don’t judge, and avoid problem solving. Listen and support your employee’s decisions on how to move forward.

What do you do as a manager to ensure you have resilient teams?

This blog does not represent official policies of the Department of State or those of the U.S. Government.

Beth Payne is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Sumiko Fukaya

Good points to keep resilient organization. I think people need their own resilience up activities regarding how much they want to increase their resilience . If they know their own ways, it’s easier to release their stress and charge energy.