Navigating the 21st Century: Building Resilience for Success

31st January 2023

Special Boardroom contributor Ole Petter Anfinsen, Executive Director of EDBAC and DBA Research Associate at Henley Business School, UK, explains how building resilience is key to thriving in these unprecedented times.

The organisational environment is becoming increasingly demanding as global issues and the shift to online work bring unprecedented challenges. To overcome these challenges and avoid emotional stress, we need to develop and strengthen one key capacity: resilience.

Resilience can be described as “the capacity to cope with stress and avoid catastrophe” (Jawad & Kakabadse, 2019). It is crucial to understand that resilience is not only required by individuals, but teams and entire organisations as well. Therefore, we can also refer to strengthening organisational health and culture, supporting performance and financial growth.

Part of my job is to translate health into a financial language, and people often ask me if investing in health provides a return on investment. The answer is a definite yes, and for associations this might even create the competitive advantage that is needed to excel in this increasingly pressured market. 

Key to this development is resilience as we are experiencing a high level of uncertainty, where pressure and mental health issues are increasing (Jawad & Kakabadse, 2019). Handling stress and challenges in the workplace while performing at a desired level is a continuous struggle, and we are being torn in almost every direction, balancing multiple identities and lives (Roche & Haar, 2013) – leaders, colleagues, friends, or partners in our work, private and social lives. In each of these roles we are experiencing various levels of discontinuity (Anfinsen, 2019) – triggering emotional stress, often due to worries. Hence, it is essential to develop and strengthen resilience. 

A survival mechanism

One could argue that resilience is a survival mechanism, especially these days, when faced with isolation and a lack of social interaction due to hybrid working, alongside shifting economies and political uncertainty. 

Resilience can also be defined by “individual, social and environmental factors and characteristics” (King, et al., 2016) amongst people who can handle these challenges in contrast to those individuals who cannot. 

Nevertheless, it might be easier than you think to build and develop resilience. You can ask yourself the following questions in order to support the development of both individual and team resilience. 

  1. “Is there any possible scenario by which this could actually turn out to be a good thing someday?” (Rao, 2017).

  2. “What can I — and my team — do to make this scenario come about? How can we turn this event into a good thing that we can all celebrate someday in the future?” (Rao, 2017).

10 habits

We all know that life has challenges. To thrive and survive in today’s environment, we must be able to manage challenges and recover from setbacks. Here are 10 habits or rituals that can help us cope.

  1. Be present and do not merely live in the future, chasing the next big thing. Learn from the process and apply yourself. 
  2. Make sure to stay focused on the task at hand, pay attention to contextual and environmental changes, and concentrate on what you want to achieve. 
  3. Maintain perspective and avoid getting lost in negative emotions. Many of us struggle with self-doubt and experience Imposter Syndrome.
  4. Stop dwelling on all the “maybes”, as for future decisions it can be paralysing while the hindsight can become counterproductive. 
  5. Make sure to get enough sleep. Lack of sleep decreases focus, self-control, and patience, while it increases aggression. 
  6. Engage in physical activity and exercise regularly. It not only supports health and well-being, but it releases endorphins – supporting a positive mindset. 
  7. Focus on nutrition, as your body needs good fuel to optimise performance. A healthy diet supports physiological and psychological health and well-being.  
  8. Build and maintain a support network (Rook, 2019) or personal board, as talking to someone you trust may help to gain perspective and/or support you in your decision-making process.
  9. Create meaning (Rook, 2019) and provide purpose to both work and private life, keeping in mind that purpose can change over time (Coleman, 2017). Avoid misconceptions such as: “purpose is only a thing you find, purpose is a single thing and purpose is stable over time” (Coleman, 2017).
  10. Reflect and learn from situations and experiences (Rook, 2019), as this will prevent making the same mistake twice. 

Adopting these habits and rituals will not only build resilience but also prevent burnout and improve work-life balance (Paliwal, 2016). This can also benefit your association as a whole, as being unbalanced can impact entire organisations. Finally, a resilient person maintains a positive outlook and sees opportunities during difficult times while moving forward. Setbacks are only temporary (Folkman, 2017).


Anfinsen, O. P. (2019). The handling of discontinuity and its impact on physical and mental health, in the context of CEO´s of large international European based organisations., Henley-on-Thames: Henley Business School.

Coleman, J. (2017). You Don’t Find Your Purpose — You Build It, s.l.: Harvard Business Review Digital Articles.

Executive Leadership, (2015). 5 traits of an effective CEO. Executive Leadership, pp. 4-4.

Folkman, J. (2017). Forbes. (Online)

Gerhardt, M. (2007). Teaching Self-Management: The Design and Implementation of Self-Management Tutorials. Journal of Education for Business, 83(1), 11-17.

Hougaard, R. & Carter, J. (2017). Are You Having Trouble Focusing? These Simple Strategies Will Help., s.l.: Harvard Business Review Digital Articles.

Jawad, A. Q. & Kakabadse, A. (2019). Leadership Intelligence. 1 ed. London: Bloomsbury Business.

King, D., Newman, A. & Luthans, F. (2016). Not if, but when we need resilience in the workplace. Journal of Organizational Behavior., 37(5), 782-786.

Paliwal , D. (2016). Harman CEO: 5 Ways to Avoid Burnout. Fortune, 759-759.

Petrie, N. (2017). How To Dump Stress And Embrace Resilience. Personal Excellence Essentials, March, 12-13.

Rao, S. (2017). To Build Your Resilience, Ask Yourself Two Simple Questions. Harvard Business Review Digital Articles, 2-4.

Roche, M. & Haar, J. M. (2013). Leaders life aspirations and job burnout: a self-determination theory approach. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 34(6), 515-531.

Rook, C. (2019). Leader Resilience – A key aspect of sustainable effective leadership practice. Reading: Henley Business School.

Tulgan, B. (2017). Teaching the Fundamentals of Self-Management. Talent Development, September, 48-52.

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