Resilience and Optimism: Vital Tools for Women Leaders

May 15, 2018

Women leaders

Women leaders need resilience and optimism more than ever in the fast-changing, challenging world of business, says Susan Mason, principal of Vital Visions Consultants and a member of AMA’s online faculty.

These outlooks are a vital part of being a leader, Mason told participants of “Women Leading with Resilience and Optimism,” an AMA Women’s Leadership Center webinar she conducted recently. “No matter where you are leading and how you are leading, the ideas of resilience and optimism are going to be important for your team’s success and for long-term satisfaction with results,” she said.

However, these attitudes aren’t always easy to hold on to, Mason acknowledged. “For many of us, optimism is a day-in, day-out challenge.… You have to believe that you can do something, and then do it,” she said. It’s “an attitude that allows me to move into the future, a belief that things can work out.”

How to build resilience

Mason outlined three areas where resilience is needed:

  • Challenge: dealing with failure or setbacks
  • Control: trying to obtain and maintain a sense of self-determination
  • Commitment: doing what needs to be done to achieve success

She offered strategies women can use to improve their resilience in each of these areas. For instance, instead of being dejected by a failure, you can reframe it as a learning opportunity, she said. Forgive yourself for whatever went wrong and move forward.

Two other strategies to strengthen your resilience, Mason proposed, are to create and stick to a SMART goal (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound) and to work on your work-life balance. Prioritize what’s important, get enough sleep, and don’t beat yourself up if some things don’t get done, she advised.

“When we are feeling overwhelmed, optimism and resilience can feel like remote ideas to get to,” Mason said. She suggests a “mental reset”—doing some breathing exercises or focused mindfulness for a few minutes, or walking away from where you are and sitting somewhere quietly.

Instilling resilience and optimism in your team

As a transformational leader, you empower and inspire people with your resilient and optimistic mindset while working toward a greater good with your team, Mason said.

“We aren’t just helping ourselves,” she emphasized. “Our resilience, our optimism, has the potential of positive impact for others.”

There is a degree of bias in some businesses that women are more often the resilient and optimistic ones, Mason said. “It’s not a blatant bias,” she pointed out. However, this expectation tends to be part of a view of women as being the caretakers or the motherly ones—not the leaders.

“So, we get in this double bind of, ‘Should I be resilient and optimistic? Because if I am, then I’m going to be seen as in this sort of traditional women’s mold,’” she said. “My advice? Be resilient. Be optimistic and keep it about the goal.”

Mason suggested building these attitudes within your team as well, so that you can count on them being resilient and optimistic, too.

“We also don’t want to be the single well of optimism and resilience,” she said. “If we keep it focused on the achievement of the goal rather than taking care of others, I think we’re in a much stronger place as women.”

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Upcoming Women’s Leadership Center events include a free webinar, “Avoiding a Management Disaster,” on May 16, and a live workshop, “Business and Financial Acumen: Empowering Women to Lead with Business Thinking,” at AMA’s NYC center on May 23. Register or look for other WLC events.

About The Author

Jan Arzooman is a proofreader, copyeditor, and writer in AMA’s creative services/marketing department. She has worked in editorial for more than 20 years. Arzooman also is a visual artist.

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