Resilience in Business: Why You Need Strong Nerves (and a Sense of Humor) in a Managerial Position

10 min.

When I first heard about the concept of "resilience," I imagined something between a superhero costume and good primer before painting a room. But, as you probably suspect, it's about something else. Especially in business, it's like a "must-have" accessory to every managerial suit.

When the world around you is burning or just smoldering

I remember a client who, in 2008, was on the brink of bankruptcy with his mid-sized company. The market was collapsing, and investors and clients were disappearing faster than cookies at a company meeting. But him? He sat in the corner of his office, calmly tending to his bonsai trees and said, "Hmm, maybe we could start growing and selling bonsais." Got it? Resilience in action!

You've probably noticed how some managers stay calm and focused even when everything around them seems chaotic? It's because they have strong internal resilience. When tough times hit—whether it's a financial crisis, pandemic, or competitive pressure—these leaders are able to assess the situation, adapt, and find solutions. And they do this not just once, but consistently and repeatedly in every new challenge they face.

Resilience is not just "surviving," but "thriving"

Many companies and managers mistakenly think that resilience is just about surviving a crisis. In reality, it is much more. Resilient companies and their leaders don't just survive; they are able to seize opportunities from the crisis. You know the saying: "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." This is exactly how resilient managers think.

Resilience and the team

Without a doubt, the resilience of a top manager is crucial for their team. Imagine a captain leading his ship and crew through a stormy sea. If he acted chaotically, the whole crew would lose confidence and panic could spread. But when the captain remains calm, firm in his decisions, and trusts his judgments, the crew will follow him.

How to build resilience?

Self-awareness: Personally, I find that solitude helps me... some might call it meditation, I call it golf or sailing... where one is alone for a long time, without external distractions, focused only on the activity they are doing. This is where I have space to understand who I am, what drives me, what I like, and where I'm heading.

Acceptance of uncertainty: There is no certainty in business. While planning is important, resilient leaders know they must be ready for change. When you sail as a skipper on a sea yacht, uncertainty is your daily bread. The technical condition of the boat, problems with an inexperienced crew, weather, currents, or lack of rum... you have plans B, C, and sometimes even D in your head... (and a spare bottle of rum hidden). You can't prepare for everything, but you need to account for and accept uncertainty; you can't fight it and wait until everything is clear.

Taking care of physical health: Resilience is not just about the mind. Your brain needs your body to be fit! It doesn't matter if you run, lift weights, play golf, or forage for mushrooms. The saying "a healthy mind in a healthy body" holds a lot of truth.

And in conclusion?

I personally encounter more and more companies that are incorporating the cultivation of resilience into their corporate culture. How do you cultivate your long-term resilience? Do you support this in your company among top management or in strategic roles?


P.S. A few examples in conclusion:

1. Personal experience

I'll try to look at the topic of resilience from the perspective of an enthusiastic sailor. I remember a situation when we were anchored near a beautiful island on a hot summer day. A small romantic bay, the weather forecast for the night was calm... but the sailor plans, the weather changes. At two in the morning, an unexpected storm formed from the heat, small, isolated but fierce, with winds over 35 knots, gusting over 45. In such weather, it is safer for the boat and crew not to rely on the anchor but to quickly head out to open sea, where it may rock a bit, but you have nothing to crash into. However, a sleepy crew, a sleepy captain, summer relaxation... a constellation prepared for disaster.

And here it's about plans B, C, D... the psychological readiness of the captain and the physical resilience connected to it.

Plans:  With every night at anchor, regardless of the weather, I pester the crew to carefully tidy up the boat, nothing loose that could fall, nothing tied behind the boat that we could get tangled in, important things in their places (like the red light, navigation tools, engine keys...). Surprisingly, it's not much work, but it makes a big difference. Also, plan night watches, divide tasks, and above all, plan emergency procedures for weather changes.

Psychology: When you're woken up at night, your first instinct is to bury yourself deeper under the blanket, not to quickly start thinking, functioning, planning, and making decisions. For some business decisions, you have plenty of time; for others, only a few minutes. When you admit the possibility of sudden changes and keep it in your mind, it allows you to quickly accept the unexpected situation and start acting.

Physical resilience: I've spent quite a lot of time at sea, often experiencing beautiful sunshine and steady winds, but also many hours at the helm in rain, storms, waves... There is often a risk of cold, wet clothes, loss of visibility, orientation, seasickness. The more often you expose yourself to such conditions, the better you'll handle them next time. It's not about muscle mass and athletic build, but about the ability to conserve energy, manage your strength, endure discomfort, and cope with the stress of a night full of storms, rain, waves, and impenetrable darkness.

Long story short, despite the unexpected arrival of the storm, we managed to weigh anchor within 10 minutes of waking up, headed out to open sea, "rocked a bit," and returned to another beautiful bay in calm weather by morning.**

2. LEGO - a turnaround in building

If we were to look for the queen of resilience, LEGO would certainly be among the top contenders. In 2003, this Danish company was almost on the brink of bankruptcy. But instead of packing up their bricks and going home, they reevaluated their strategy and began focusing more on innovation and partnerships with film studios. The result? The LEGO movie, video games, and many other successful projects. A clear example of how to combine tradition with innovation through resilience.

3. Netflix - from DVDs to streaming

If you remember, Netflix started as a service that mailed DVD movies to you. But as technology and customers began to change, Netflix quickly adapted. Instead of sticking to an outdated model, they boldly moved into online streaming and later into original series production. Resilience is the ability to see change as an opportunity, not a threat.

4. Nokia - from rubber boots to smartphones

Yes, you read that right. Nokia, now known for mobile phones, originally sold rubber boots. Their ability to adapt to a changing market is a prime example of resilience. Although they hit a snag in the smartphone era, their flexibility and willingness to innovate keep them in the game.

Pavel Plachý is the founder of Flow-r Executive Search. He began his career in business intelligence, working for both Czech and multinational companies in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and the United Kingdom. He has also held international top management roles, leading teams in three countries with a total of more than 700 employees.

In 2008, he founded his own company focused on finding strategic candidates and, since then, he and his colleagues have been dedicated to executive search. They find top managers and strategic experts for their clients.

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