Resilience: A Great Career Trait to Cultivate

It's valuable for anyone, but seems especially so for Millennials in business.

Posted Feb 21, 2016

Resilience is a great quality for anyone, but seems especially so for Millennials in business. That’s my takeaway from one of Psychology Today’s more popular articles over the last six months.  Declining Student Resilience: A Serious Problem for Colleges, by Peter Gray, had over 300,000 shares on Facebook last time I checked.

It’s a fascinating piece, and I recommend it in its entirety.  In particular the article discusses students’ all-too-common inability to navigate everyday bumps in the road of life.

Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Citing a variety of indicators (counseling needs, faculty reports, mental health care increases), Gray, a Boston College professor, shares an email from a head of Counseling that offers a concise summary: “I have done a considerable amount of reading and research in recent months on the topic of resilience in college students,” the Counseling director noted. “Our students are no different from what is being reported across the country on the state of late adolescence/early adulthood. There has been an increase in diagnosable mental health problems, but there has also been a decrease in the ability of many young people to manage the everyday bumps in the road of life. Whether we want it or not, these students are bringing their struggles to their teachers and others on campus who deal with students on a day-to-day basis. The lack of resilience is interfering with the academic mission of the University and is thwarting the emotional and personal development of students.”

Ah, the normal bumps in the road of life.  So what are the implications for the next phase of life – career?  In the business world (as we used to say when I was growing up in Boston), resilience is 'wicked important.'

Truth be told, in the hurly-burly of today’s lean-and-mean 'rightsized' business environment (long-term loyalty is so passe!) a person can get knocked around quite a bit.

Accordingly, here are three very practical reasons why resilience is a great career trait to cultivate.

It’s highly valued in the business world – Let me give a quick management perspective. In a phrase, developing resilience is a solid career move.  Not only will it enable you to recover quickly from setbacks, but your manager will appreciate you for it. Most managers are chronically busy, with too much to do in too little time. Although coaching is part of the role, managers don’t want to be bogged down constantly intervening in minor problems. Low-maintenance employees who resolve issues independently will invariably be appreciated. When I was in management, I always valued employees who’d come to me with solutions, not problems – and I know many other managers did too.

It will help you withstand the rigors of The Freelance Economy – If we assume Gray’s assessment is correct – and I have every reason to believe it is – a sizable number of Millennials just don’t have the psychic armor and powers of recovery they should.  To the extent you can develop, say, a more armadillo-like hide (an attribute I’ve long felt valuable – see One Surprising Quality Every Leader Needs), such mental toughness will help you withstand the every-dog-for-himself job pressures that unfortunately are all too common in today's Freelance Economy.

It doesn’t matter if you fail; what matters far more is how you deal with failure – This certainly isn’t an original sentiment, but there’s no harm reiterating it: How you get up is a lot more important than how you fall.  And Fear of Falling is a substantive concern for those who’ve too long been shielded from it. Peter Gray's article cited above noted that “students are afraid to fail; they do not take risks; they need to be certain about things. For many of them, failure is seen as catastrophic and unacceptable.” Safe to say, in the working world unless you’re preternaturally lucky you will at times have to deal with disappointment.  The faster you recover and get back on your feet and go productively on your way, the better it will be for your management and your organization.  And, most importantly, for yourself.

A brief personal story: When I started in business many decades ago, I had a personality that at first felt not naturally suited for management: By nature I was quiet, reserved and easy going, as opposed to being more extroverted, authoritative and controlling.  Initially, as I haltingly found my way in a challenging new field, I made so many mistakes (maintaining control, resolving conflicts, holding people accountable, etc.) I’d often say I could no longer remember the first couple hundred.

If I’d been unduly disturbed by them I’d never have been able to get out of bed in the morning.

A version of this article first appeared at

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Victor is author of The Type B Manager: Leading Successfully in a Type A World (Prentice Hall Press).

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