How resilient are you?

Ann O'Mahony 19.05.2016

Morgan McKinley was delighted to host an event for the Association of Coaching in Ireland at their Dublin office recently. Guest speaker for the evening was Dr. Carole Pemberton who is an executive and career coach and author of “Coaching to Solutions” and “Resilience: A Practical Guide for Coaches”.

Resilience is a word now widely used by organisations and the people who work in them. Its emergence can be linked to working lives that constantly demand more. Outside of work, life throws up disruptions which test resilience. To lose access to resilience at times is normal.

Carole’s definition of resilience is one which resonates:

The ability to remain flexible in our thoughts, feelings and behaviours when faced by a life disruption or extended periods of pressure, so that we emerge from difficulty stronger, wiser and more able. 

So what do we know about resilience and why are some people more resilient than others?

Three factors affect our resilience fulcrum:

Childhood Protectors: 

Positive experiences in childhood contribute significantly to our adult self’s levels of resilience. Safety, the feeling of being protected, being exposed to intelligent company and having a sense of purpose to our lives even at a very young age, all contribute positively to our ability to develop resilience. The negative factors of neglect, inconsistent parenting, poverty and mental illness have the opposite effect.

Learning from Adversity:

Probably the factor most recognised is how resilience is strengthen by experience of dealing with situations which are not ideal, which are stressful or which rock our foundations. The ability to overcome these types of adversity enhance our resilience to future events of a similar nature.


For some time psychologists Ellis and Boyce have speculated that certain people are more sensitive to life events and need more support in order to survive while others are immune to any adversity and refuse to have their roots shaken. More recently a scientist at Duke University has claimed the discovery of a resilience gene NR3CI which is linked to the receptivity of cortisol. His theory suggests that there are people who are hard wired to being less receptive to cortisol (the stress hormone) which in turn aids and adds to their resilience.

Resilience is variable. In a climate of a trusting team, a supportive boss, a clear sense of shared purpose and feedback which builds confidence, an individual can feel resilient even though the pressures are large. At a time when an individual has lost connection with what they are doing, feels unsupported and only experiences feedback which is critical, they will feel far less resourced.

Check in on how resilient you are feeling right now by asking yourself the following questions:

  1. How confident do you feel about your ability to deal with the demands being placed on me?
  2. What support can you call on when things are not going well?
  3. How easy is it for you to change your approach, or attitude if something isn’t working?
  4. How connected do you feel to the work you are doing and why you are doing it?

If the answer to all these questions is positive then you are well equipped to deal with uncertainty and difficulties. If any of your answers are negative then consider the following:

  1. What action could you take that would help your confidence? E.g. taking a risk to stretch yourself, speaking out.
  2. Who could you call on for support and what would you want from them? E.g. asking for 15 minutes with a colleague you trust to help you think it through a current challenge.
  3. What one thing could you do (or think) differently that would signal your flexibility? E.g. changing the routine of your day.
  4. What makes work meaningful to you? E.g. considering when you felt really engaged in your work and looking to recreate that in your current role.

Morgan McKinley hold regular Breakfast Briefings and details of our next one can be found here.


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