How to Be Resilient in the Workplace

Leadership and personal development speaker, Royston Guest, explains the three key traits you need to develop resilience in the workplace.


Resilience determines whether you succeed or fail in life. It’s true in sport, in business, entertainment, and it’s true in the workplace.

Many of the early theories about resilience stressed the role of genetics. Some people are just born resilient, so the argument went. There’s some truth to that, of course, but empirical evidence today shows that resilience can be learned. The reality is that sometimes in life, you don’t realise how much resilience you have until you are tested. As the saying goes: cometh the hour, cometh the man.

There are many arguments around what makes one individual more resilient than the next. In my experience it comes down to three things;

  • A unique ability to confront reality head-on
  • An unwavering belief that life is purposeful
  • An uncanny ability to improvise and adapt


Individuals who possess a strong bias and a rich reservoir of personal resilience live their life in a constant state of reality. They don’t bury their head in the sand when faced with challenging times. They don’t go into denial, hoping that a situation or scenario will just sort itself out. And they’re never delusional about the magnitude of opportunities or challenges facing them. They simply have a unique ability to confront reality head-on. They are what I call ‘pragmatic optimists’.

A common belief is that resilience stems from an optimistic mindset. While that’s true up to a point, it applies only when optimism doesn’t distort reality. In extreme scenarios and situations, rose-tinted thinking can spell disaster.

Now, this is not to diminish optimism. When you’re turning around a demoralised team or helping a team member going through a difficult time, a sense of optimism and possibility is a powerful tool. But for more significant challenges, a cool, calm, almost pragmatic sense of reality is critical to your success. This is why I see the resilient, high achiever as a pragmatic optimist, where both characteristics work in positive tension to the benefit of each.

We all tend to slip into denial as a coping mechanism. Facing reality is gruelling work. It can often be draining and emotionally wrenching. But once you confront your reality, then you have a stable platform on which to build.


Creating purpose is the way resilient people build bridges from their current state reality to a compelling future state. The moment we create the bridge – the link between our personal goals, business goals and what we do daily during work – self-motivation takes hold. This is the defining moment a person changes from someone with a job to someone with a purpose. And at that point, resilience will naturally kick in when that purpose is challenged or under threat.


In one word, it’s bouncebackability. Yes, you read that correctly. It is a real word, albeit a recent addition to the English dictionary. Its official definition is ‘the ability to be successful after a period of failure’. It was first coined by ex-footballer Iain Dowie when he was manager of Crystal Palace Football Club, who famously described his team as showing ‘great bouncebackability’.

Behind any great success is years of dedication, trial and error, mistakes, successes and setbacks. Achievers don’t always get it right and, yes, in some situations, they might fail (or experience what others perceive as failure).

I know in my life, I have experienced stunning successes and some fantastic failures. But I view the failures as learning opportunities, stepping stones to the ultimate goal. And if plan A doesn’t work, the great news is that there are 25 more letters in the alphabet.

Imagine bouncing a rubber ball; the harder the ball hits the ground, the higher it bounces back. That’s bouncebackability!

You’re going to take knocks, some days are going to feel like a train crash, and you will go down blind alleys. But suppose you have an ultimate destination in your mind’s eye, a focused goal and purpose coupled with drive, determination and motivation. In that case, when you do fall over, you’ll pick yourself up, dust yourself off, improvise, adapt and refocus on your goal.

That’s personal resilience in action!

Royston Guest, CEO, Pathways Global Limited and Founder of the Business Growth Pathway, a digital platform that delivers dynamic, data-led mentor style growth insights. Royston has a career spanning over two decades across a multitude of sectors, enterprises, and governments in 27 countries. He is also author of two books, RISE and Built to Grow.