Center for Organizational Leadership

Empowering Effective Leaders

Resilience and Courage: Essential Qualities for Leaders

By Vanessa Webb


Vanessa Webb, Department of Veterans Affairs, Social Service Specialist Preceptor
Current MAOL student


As one of the overnight Responders for the Veterans and Military Crisis Line, I play a critical role in providing immediate assistance and support to veterans, service members and their families during times of crisis. My team consists of professionals highly trained in crisis intervention techniques with a deep understanding of the unique challenges faced by individuals with military experience. We help those who have courageously served our country and have lived through experiences because of their resilience. The work I do each day reminds me that resilience and courage are essential qualities for leaders. 

As leaders, we must have emotional strength and intelligence. We must maintain professionalism and adhere to our own value systems. We must display endurance as well as adaptability while keeping sight of established goals. We must be bold in our decision making. And at the top of the list of qualities required for effective leadership resilience and courage emerge as essential pillars, shaping our capacity to navigate through turbulent times and drive meaningful change

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from setbacks, navigate challenges and adapt to change.  Leaders who embody resilience possess an unwavering determination to persevere in the face of adversity. They maintain focus on organizational goals even when confronted with daunting challenges or unexpected setbacks. Resilient leaders embrace challenges as opportunities for growth and learning, viewing failures not as permanent defeats but as stepping stones toward success. Moreover, resilient leaders foster a culture of adaptability and perseverance within their teams, inspiring optimism and agility even in times of uncertainty.

Courage is the willingness to take bold action in the face of fear or doubt. Courageous leaders dare to challenge the status quo, make tough decisions and confront difficult truths even when doing so involves personal risk or discomfort. Leaders exhibit moral courage by standing up for their principles, inspiring trust and confidence among their teams, and instilling a sense of purpose and direction that transcends obstacles and setbacks. Moreover, courageous leaders empower their teams to take calculated risks, innovate solutions and pursue ambitious goals, driving organizational growth and success.

Fortunately, resilience and courage can be learned by any leader, and the first lesson is one focused on self-awareness. As leaders, we must reflect on our own emotions, strengths and abilities. We consider our own experiences to identify patterns and acknowledge areas that need improvement. The practice of self-awareness must then extend to our teams as we monitor team progress, provide guidance, empathize with struggles and provide support when needed. A leader who demonstrates genuine care and support will build a resilient team that stands strong in the face of adversity.


The second lesson is one on developing a growth mindset. Growth mindset, as coined by psychologist Carol Dweck, refers to the belief that abilities and intelligence can be developed through dedication, effort and perseverance. A growth mindset allows for the belief that an individual can learn and improve from any experience. Leaders with a growth mindset are not afraid of failure because obstacles are seen as opportunities. Ultimately, leaders with a growth mindset not only drive personal and professional growth within their teams but also foster a culture of innovation and resilience that propels the organization forward in an ever-evolving world.


Below are five suggestions for building leadership practices that are resilient and courageous. Personal growth and development are ongoing; therefore, we must give ourselves grace and time to change old habits while we implement these new practices. 


Practice calming interventions. Engaging in activities that help us to disconnect from work and recharge our minds and bodies is essential. These calming interventions help to regulate stress and anxiety during stressful situations. Whether ]practicing mindfulness, deep breathing exercises or yoga — or enjoying soothing music or a good book — find what works and make it a priority. 


Develop coping strategies. Movement takes attention away from the situation and allows the mind to focus on something else. As leaders, we must remember to make intentional moves to recharge physically and mentally, both for ourselves and for our teams. Recovery and rest, a bit of self-nurturing, and activities we enjoy can help us develop a different perspective, which can lead to innovative solutions. 


Build (and nurture) supportive relationships. The key to this step is surrounding ourselves with reliable, caring people who will share their thoughts and feelings with us so we don’t feel alone. This creates a support system we can lean on during challenging times. Nurturing existing relationships helps to strengthen bonds already in place.   


Develop a growth mindset. Eagerly encourage learning and growth opportunities. Reframe failure or setbacks as learning experiences. When leaders allow teams to make mistakes, we show trust in the team and provide valuable opportunities to learn and grow personally and professionally.


Be courageous. To be courageous is to act despite fears. As leaders, we must be courageous and embrace vulnerability. We must step outside of our comfort zones when evaluating solutions or coming up with ideas; we must admit mistakes and display our authentic selves. Our team members are watching, and they will display the same type of behavior their leader displays during challenging times. Our courage provides the perfect opportunity to model what we want our teams to display.


I’ve seen the positive impact of leadership driven by resilience and courage in my own work. When faced with the staggering challenge of addressing the alarming increase in veteran suicides, as well as the mental health needs of veterans and service members, the Department of Veterans Affairs took bold action by establishing the Veterans and Military Crisis Line. This initiative aimed to provide immediate support and intervention to individuals in crisis, offering a lifeline to those struggling with suicidal thoughts or mental health issues. The formation of the crisis line required resilience and courage from leaders within the Department of Veterans Affairs who navigated bureaucratic challenges, allocated resources and mobilized support to make the initiative a reality. Through their resilience and courage, these leaders demonstrated a commitment to the well-being of veterans and service members, inspiring hope and resilience within our armed forces community.

Leaders who embody resilience persevere in the face of adversity, fostering a culture of adaptability and perseverance. Additionally, courageous leaders dare to challenge the status quo, inspire trust and confidence among their teams, and empower them to achieve collective success. By embracing resilience and courage, leaders can navigate through turbulent times, inspire optimism and lead their organizations toward a brighter future

Topics: Leadership