The true cost of resilience in leadership

Although we glorify resilience, we also forget the human cost on ourselves and others.

Steffan Surdek
October 23, 2023
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Often when we talk about resilient leaders, we talk about the leaders that persevere. We talk about the leaders who push themselves, and who get back up no matter how many times they fall. We even glamorize it to a certain extent.

Are you one of those leaders who never gives up? Do you keep pushing forward against all odds through any adversity? Although it is necessary and useful to do this at times, what happens when this turns into your life 24/7?

For a while now, I noticed there is one thing that we gloss over when we talk about resilient leaders. This is the fact that resilience comes at a cost.

In this article, I will take a deeper look into resilience, what happens when you forget the human cost and alternative strategies to cope with your challenges.

My personal story with resilience

Over the past few years, I dealt with a lot of challenges. One of my children has health issues. This forced me to deal with all sorts of things such as navigating and putting pressure on the medical system to care for them. In that moment, I kept it together as best I could and continued working with my clients.

I was as present as I could be even though I was not feeling great while at work. There were a few times when I remember preparing for virtual talks. Thirty minutes before the start time, I was curled up in a ball and all I wanted to do was cry. Then I would take half an hour to get ready and step into my bubble.

When it was showtime, I would give my talks or my workshops. I would swallow it up for the time that was allotted. I did what I needed to do. I was resilient until I reached the point three years later where I decided I was so damn tired of being resilient.

The true cost of resilience

Here is the thing: That resilience came at a cost. It came at a cost to my mental health. It came at a cost to how present I could be for others.

I coach a lot of leaders and with many of them, I see how resilient they are. They face craziness all day long and they bounce back from that. Sometimes when we talk, I hear how discouraged they feel over certain situations. Yet they keep doing it and they keep pushing day after day.

If you are like them, you may keep pushing yourself too. Take a moment to step back and think. What is it costing you in terms of your mental health? What is it costing you in terms of time to recharge? How about time you spend with your family? This can lead to the point where you are getting close to burnout.

Resilience is not always the best strategy

If that is the cost of being a resilient leader, we need to rethink what resilience is in leadership. We need to approach this very differently because blindly pushing forward does not work in the long run.

What I found is this: You need to do a lot more to care for yourself. It may not always be easy, but you need to find ways outside of work to alleviate your stress and to heal yourself. Find your oxygen masks: those people in your life that you can open up to and who are there for you. Your support system can be made of friends, professionals, a coach, your family...

Being a leader does not mean that you have to carry the mantle of responsibility all on your own. This is where co-creative leadership comes in, because co-creative leaders allow their teams to contribute and maximize what they bring to the table.

At work, a key thing you can do is to be vulnerable with your team. What if you want to keep it for yourself? You can choose to not say anything and suffer in silence. However if you are overwhelmed, wouldn't it help to have people around you who can help and support you?

It may be as simple as sharing what you are going through with the people in your organization. But before you start making yourself vulnerable to your team, there is a distinction that I want to tell you about. That is the difference between what is personal and what is private.

The key distinction between personal and private

It is useful for your team to know what is going on in your life or that something is happening with you. A word of advice I would give you is that it is OK to keep it on a personal level. You do not need to go into excessive detail.

It is perfectly OK to say something like this : "Look, I'm experiencing this situation in my life right now and it's not going well. I may need to lean on the team a bit more in the coming weeks."

You do not need to go into the private realm, unless you are speaking to someone who you highly trust. The private level for example would be dishing out all the details about your situation. It could also mean becoming overly emotional or oversharing about what you are going through with your team. This is often unnecessary on top of potentially making them uncomfortable.


It is normal to go through rough patches from time to time. But it is not normal to keep yourself in that headspace of constant struggle. Let me repeat: as a leader, it is not normal to accept this and to drive yourself to burnout.

Resilience in leadership is important. What I am telling you here is that you do not have to be resilient all the time. Also, you do not need to be alone. This is where a bit of vulnerability goes a long way. Be open with your team about the challenges you are facing.

Other times, you may feel you have to keep it pushing and to bounce back. But you also need to keep track of the cost. Think about what this is costing you in terms of your health in general, or your time to do things other than work. It is about setting healthy boundaries for yourself.

Remember that you have only one life to live. This is why you have to use it as best you can.

Tell me, do you see yourself as a resilient leader? What is the cost of being so resilient? What things can you start doing for yourself today?