Leadership Mentoring: Emotional Resilience

“Leaders must have emotional resilience—the ability to recover quickly from failure and defeat.”

Resilience /rəˈzilyəns/ n.
the act of rebounding; ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity or the like.

“We must ensure that our leaders at every level have the stamina to recover rapidly from disappointment—to bounce back from discouragement, to carry out the responsibilities of their office without becoming distorted in their views—without losing clear perspective, as well as the emotional strength to persist in the face of seemingly difficult circumstances.” —Wes Roberts, Leadership Secrets of Atilla the Hun

My son is a pastor in another state. These Leadership Mentoring exercises are an attempt to impart on him—and other church leaders—what God has given me. They are designed to be discussed over coffee or FaceTime in order to stimulate thinking and wrestle with leadership themes, skills and perspectives. They are not easy fixes, 1-2-3 strategies or spoon-fed biblical remedies. Rather, they are intended to stimulate investigation and an internal wrestling match resulting in deeper learning and more thoughtfully held values and convictions. The wrestling match has a shaping effect on us. Wrestle away!

Emotional Resilience

Leaders must have emotional resilience—the ability to recover quickly from failure and defeat.

Carl George once said, “Leaders lead people and experience pain.” This is the candid truth about leadership. At the beginning, there’s a dream. We imagine ourselves boldly stepping out in faith and others enthusiastically following, producing amazing successes and “How I Did It” books.

Then, reality strikes. Dang.

Leading people is hard. It’s fraught with frustration and tension and challenges. Inevitably, we experience failure. Sometimes, even the infamous “epic fail.”

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We vision cast, recruit workers, plan our brains out and work our butts off. Then, no one shows up. We dive into the Scriptures deeply, sense the voice of God speaking, prepare a great study for our small group and no one engages in the discussion. Complete silence. Crickets.

My Experience

Years ago, I was leading a small group and during our discussion time, a self-proclaimed prophet guy asked if he could tell a story. I begrudgingly OK’d it.

As he told it, he concluded with a SHOUTING-AT-THE-TOP-OF-HIS-LUNGS prayer. One woman freaked out and bolted from the room. Several others sat there shaking in shock. I grabbed him by the shirt and dragged him from the room—“You’re coming with me!” (My internal voice: “Doofus! Idiot!”) After that night, curiously, no one wanted to come back. It took weeks for some to return. Others never returned.

What do you do when you experience an epic fail?

Biblically Speaking

After Elijah’s soaring victory on Mount Carmel, he plummeted into isolation and depression. James and John made a power play for executive positions in Jesus’ kingdom and were made an object lesson in what not to do. Peter denied Jesus three times—and cussed doing it! He also got called out by Paul—in public—for being racially biased.

What do you do when you experience an epic fail?

Perseverance and endurance describe our ability to survive and even thrive in hostile circumstances, but resilience describes the process we go through to recover from defeat.

Interact

Think back and recount several defeats, failures and/or epic fails in your life as a leader.

  • How did these failures make you feel? (Share the experience and how it affected you in detail.)
  • What did you do with those feelings? (Be specific.) How long did it take to recover?
  • What did you learn from the failure? (Be specific. If you did not learn, admit it.)
  • What did you learn about yourself from the failure?
  • Discuss any lingering effects of the experience of failure (fear, being gun-shy, etc.).
  • If someone you know is leading and experiences an epic fail, how would you help them process it?
  • Does the Bible address this in any direct ways? If so, how?
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I am not giving biblical texts to examine because I want the you, as mentors and mentees, to dive in and find solutions. To own up to real defeats. To examine the feelings and thoughts that this creates within you. And to work and pray through it together.

Read more in the Leadership Mentoring series »

Bob Branch is the husband of Becky; father of Daniel, Hannah, Charis and Becca; father-in-law to Amelia and Nate, and the founder and pastor of The Springs Community Church in Temecula, California. Besides connecting with his family, he enjoys traveling, guitars, watches, football, baseball, Clive Cussler books, good coffee, sushi and almost all kinds of food.