Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Stacey Copas - The Resilience Factor in Leadership: Turning Adversity Into Opportunities

The resilience factor in leadership: turning adversity into ...
Stacey Copas
by Lauren Kelleher, Women's Agenda:

Good leaders are resilient. They bounce back from set-backs or adversity, and continue to move in the right direction when times get tough.

In today’s modern workplace, the ability to cope with change and deal with challenges is an essential trait of a great leader. But remaining positive in the face of adversity can be tough.

Fear of failure, reactive behaviour and fear of rejection are just some of the many hurdles which stop people from being resilient in tough times.

According to Stacey Copas, keynote speaker and facilitator of Resilience for Results, the key to building resilience is to actively create strategies on how to handle difficult situations - a trait which is absolutely critical for any leader.

“Resilience is essential for any leader, but even more important for a woman in leadership or a woman aspiring to be in a leadership role. You need to have strategies to think more positively before you use them in practice - I liken it to ‘learning to dig your well before you are thirsty,” she explains.

Stacey has recently published a book titled How to be Resilient based on her own life experiences. When Stacey was 12 she had a devastating accident that left her a quadriplegic and wheelchair dependent for the rest of her life. Over the course of her career and life journey, she has picked up and established a number of personal philosophies and key tools to build resilience in the face of hardship.

Stacey is now Australia’s number one keynote speaker and facilitator on how to turn adversity into an asset, an ambassador for the Layne Beachely Aim for the Stars Foundation, and has worked alongside many organisations - like Telstra, CSIRO and the South Australian Cricket Association - to share how leaders can turn setbacks into opportunities.

Ahead of Women in Leadership in the Public Sector, Stacey shares her insights into why resilience is an important leadership trait for any female leader and the steps that can be used to build resilience, and turn difficulties into opportunities.

“Resilience is essential for any leader, but even more important for a woman in leadership or a woman aspiring to be in a leadership role. As women, we face more challenges than our male counterparts. It’s about being able to deal with challenges and having the strength to put ourselves out there, knowing that we maybe criticised or questioned along the way.

A big part of resilience is confidence. This is a huge issue and no matter how hard I work on confidence building, it always manages to rear its ugly head from time to time. As a result, we do start to downplay how good we really are.

To have resilience means to be able to back yourself and to be unapologetically ambitious. It’s also important to not take things personally and realise that judgements from others is not personal. The ability to communicate and network with others is another part of building resilience. To be able to get to where I am today, and to work with the people have, networking has been vital.

It’s important to have the confidence to reach out to people who you see as incredibly successful. When you lead with value, you can add value to others and that is true leadership.”

As a result, they create a lot of negative energy and end up literally being paralysed and unable to move forward. It then becomes difficult to see the bright spots in bad situations.

Another reason is conditioning or reacting in a way you always have. From the time when we are young, there is a general focus on things that are wrong, rather than things that are right. A lot of people tend to downplay their achievements and have a tendency to focus on the things they haven’t done well, rather than the things they have done well.

Ultimately across the board the biggest challenge is that people just don’t know how to deal with adversity. They don’t have any practical strategies or have never learned what to do when something goes wrong, and it becomes difficult to find the positive in it.

The big thing I’ve found is resilience comes down to having strategies to think more positively before you use them in practice – I liken it to ‘learning to dig your well before you are thirsty. It’s a matter of making a conscious decision to be better at how you respond when things don’t go to plan. It’s about how to turn negatives into positives as quickly as possible.”

“Looking back on my career, there has been five top things I do to turn negatives around:

1. Take responsibility

“Rather than looking for someone to blame, I take ownership for finding the solution, even if something is not my fault or if it is out of my control. It’s important to focus on finding a solution and taking responsibility and it really is the starting point to turning things around.”

2. Watch the language you use - don’t be a ‘negative Nancy’

“I really watch the language I use to make sure that my focus is on being positive, rather than getting bogged down in all the things that might be going wrong. People have a tendency to be overly dramatic around sensitive issues or difficult situations. They say awful things and use language that might make a situation seem worse than it actually is. Using positive language helps to focus on what’s ahead and looking at what’s there, rather than what is missing or what has been lost.”

3. Surround yourself with a network of supporters

“It has been so important for me to have good people around me. Having people that are there to support, encourage and push you is vital. It’s important to have cheerleaders in our lives. It is also important to recognise that some people aren’t such a positive influence in our world and being careful about our interactions with people like that.”

4. Be clear on what inspires and motivates you

“Be clear on what inspires you and connect your work to those personal values. This will help you to feel fulfilled about what you are doing. It also helps you to drive forward when things seem like they are out of control. I’ve felt when I am in situations that are difficult or might stress me out, that I really start to question my ability. Coming back to what inspires and motivates you can help you move forward in those difficult times.”

5. Find ways to remind yourself of the positives

“It doesn’t matter how far you get in your career, there will still be difficult days. One strategy I use to deal with these days is remembering all the positives. For example I have an email file or a collection of all the positive feedback forms of things I have done for others. When I’m feeling really flat or out of my comfort zone, I take 10 minutes to read through these. It’s important to celebrate your successes.”

“There are two things that have been pivotal for me. The first was having the confidence to take a leap of faith and leave a job that everyone thought had great prospects for me. I had a gut feeling I was meant to do something different, so I took a leap of faith and I left my job, started my business and it was tough initially but it something I am really proud of.

The second achievement is collecting all of my learning and experiences and publishing in into a book and putting it out there for the world to see.”

To learn more about building resilience and other strategies needed to become a better leader, join Stacey at Women in Leadership Public Sector 2015.

For more information visit or call +61 2 9229 1000 or email

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