As one of the most resilient leaders of the 20th century, Winston Churchill taught the world how to suffer through defeats without turning bitter. Ironically, Churchill was regularly admonished by his teachers and parents for a lack of effort and ambition. In one letter, his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, the 7th Duke of Marlborough, called the future prime minister a “public school failure” destined to lead an “idle, useless life.” Historians speculate this persistent condemnation pushed Mr. Churchill to prove people wrong.
The way we react to failure is as critical to our success as the way we react to setbacks. But it isn’t more money, staff, or stuff that gives us Churchill-like resolve. It’s resiliency. Resilient principals don’t just bounce back. They bounce forward.
It turns out that building resiliency is an inside job. Effective principals actually choose to be resilient. They gain energy to sustain change through five personal practices.
Practice 1: Go hard on some days and easy on others. Similar to an athlete working to build endurance, resilient principals go hard on some days and easy on others. They rest up when they need to. You’ll never hear a resilient principal say they’re “too busy” to reflect or refresh.
Practice 2: Watch what’s said. Resilient principals are careful about what they say, even when describing a negative situation. Instead of offering solutions, they ask questions to encourage action. For example, how can we show others this challenge won’t get us down? What lessons have we learned from this situation that will allow us to move ahead? Resilient principals inspire their team toward a better future through positive phraseology.
Practice 3: Cut losses without giving up. We’ve all watched someone throw good money after bad, try to fix an irreparable relationship, or stay in a dead-end job. Perhaps they don’t have a better alternative, they feel the need to save face, or they’re desperate to recover sunk costs. Psychologists call this a prevention focus. Resilient principals exhibit a promotion focus. They know when to cut their losses and remain optimistic about what they have to gain.
Practice 4: Build networks before disaster strikes. The time to establish a network of supporters is before disaster strikes. Resilient principals are always busy expanding their reach with employees, students, families, the community, district office staff, and colleagues. It’s not a matter of if they’ll need help from others, it’s a matter of when.
Practice 5: Notice patterns. Anticipate what’s ahead. Visionary capacity is not a fixed asset. As such, resilient principals notice patterns and anticipate what’s on the horizon. They prepare or insulate their school based upon these insights. Less resilient principals are oblivious to these things. They simply wait for something to happen and then react with finger pointing or blame.
Allison, E. (2011 December/2012 January). The resilient leader. Education Leadership, 69(4), pp. 79-82.