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Resilience - A Life Skill Required in the Twenty-first Century

Updated on July 12, 2014
Resilience | Source


The change that is being encountered in the twenty-first century is somewhat like the flow of a powerful stream. At times the flow of the stream is smooth and runs serenely and majestically from the small stream to the river and into the ocean. At other times, the stream turns into a wildly, thrashing, and endangering complex sea of instability that is difficult to travel through or navigate. In these chaotic times, the ability to be resilient as an individual as well as at an organizational level has taken on new meaning (Norman et al., 2005). As the world is transforming itself, organizations and individuals alike are under pressure to keep up. In order to manage today, resilience is needed at all levels of an organization (Luthans, Youssef, & Avolio, 2007).

Conner (1993) remarked that the word resilience is derivative of a Latin term which suggests one’s ability to jump or bounce back. Although the term resilience has no widely accepted definition, most of the definitions do possess great similarities. In addition, the definition of resilience has developed over time as the concept has been investigated by independent researchers from a different disciplines including epidemiology, psychology, psychiatry, social sciences, nursing, human development, and change management (Conner, 1993; Flach, 1988; Garmezy, 1993; Henderson & Milstein, 1996; Hollister-Wagner, Foshee, & Jackson, 2001; Joseph, 1994; Masten & Coatsworth, 1998; Murphy & Moriarty, 1976; Pianta & Walsh, 1998; Rutter, 1987, 1993; Wayman, 2002; Werner & Smith, 2001; Wolin & Wolin, 1993).


In the field of psychology, being resilient means that an individual has the ability to bounce back and to endure hardship and work to improve oneself (Higgins, 1994). In the discipline of psychiatry, resilient behavior is depicted by the biological and psychological courage and strength that individuals need to master change successfully (Flach, 1988). In the discipline of psychopathology, resilience is regarded as the ability to deal with adversity, challenges, obstacles, and threats as they arise, while maintaining an internal capacity to maintain one’s direction by possessing a sense of perspective and an understanding of one’s self (Sagor, 1996). Within human development, resilience refers to one’s ability to successfully navigate through life’s difficulties (Werner & Smith, 2001). In the study of epidemiology, the term resilience refers to one’s capability of dealing with and surviving stress or trauma and learning to ascend above adversity and disadvantage (Spreitzer et al., 2005). In the field of nursing, resilient behavior refers to the ability to harness the power that resides deep within one’s self to take action in order to survive, grow, develop, and heal (Jones, 1991). In the field of medicine, resilience in an individual refers to their ability to assess the pain that they are feeling, acknowledge where the pain comes from, learn to tolerate the pain in the short-term until the individual begins to heal and the pain begins to subside and normalize (Norman et al., 2005). In the social sciences, resilience signifies bouncing back from the negativity that occurs in day-to-day life to renew one’s self and become bolder, stronger, and more tenacious and resolute during the process of overcoming one’s disadvantaged status (Henderson & Milstein, 1996). In organizational change management, resilience involves being able to display both strength, flexibility, and adaptability throughout the organizational change process as it occurs, while demonstrating very little dysfunctional or destructive behavior (Werner & Smith, 2001).

Wolin & Wolin (1993)
Ability to bounce back
Luthans (2002)
Positive Org. Behavior
Bounce back from uncertainty
Flach (1988)
Psychological courage
Garmezy & Masten (1996)
Cope with challenge
Werner & Smith (2001)
Human Development
Navigate through adversity
Rutter (2004)
Surviving stress or trauma
Jones (1991)
Harness the power within
Normas et al. (2005)
Transcend above pain
Henderson & Milstein (1996)
Social Sciences
Snap back from life experiences
Conner (1993)
Org. Change Mgmt.
Display strength and flexibility
Table 1. Resilience defined by discipline.

Based on the research literature involving all of these disciplines, one can find a common denominator and define resilience as a human capacity, a strength, or an ability (See Table 1).

Resilience as a life skill can be learned. Resilience is learned by facing adversity and rising above it and learning the lessons provided within the trials and challenges. Consequently, one can see why resilience would be a critical attribute needed by leaders and for that matter all individuals in the Twenty-first Century. It is, indeed, a volatile, uncertain, and complex world today. Being able to bounce back, or more importantly, bounce forward is a critical life skill to ensure success both at an individual level and an organizational level.


Conner, D. (1993). Managing at the speed of change: How resilient managers succeed and prosper where others fail. New York: Villard Books.

Flach, F. (1988). Resilience: Discovering a new strength at times of stress. New York: Fawcett Columbine.

Garmezy, N., & Masten, A. (1986). Stress, competence, and resilience: Common frontiers for therapist and psychopathologist. Behavior Therapy, 17(5), 500-521.

Henderson, N., & Milstein, M. (1996). Resiliency in schools: Making it happen for students and educators. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Jones, P. (1991). Adaptability: A personal resource for health. Scholarly Inquiry for Nursing Practice: An International Journal, 5(2), 95-108.

Luthans, F. (2002). The need for and meaning of positive psychological capabilities. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 23(6), 695-706.

Masten, A., & Coatsworth, J. (1998). The development of competence in favorable and unfavorable environments: Lessons from research in successful children.American Psychologist, 53(2), 205-220.

Norman, S., Luthans, B., & Luthans, K. (2005). The proposed contagion effect of hopeful leaders on the resiliency of employees and organizations. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 12(2), 55-64.

Rutter, M. (2004). Are there biological programming effects for psychological development? Findings from a study of Romanian adoptees. Developmental Psychology, 40(1), 81-94.

Werner, E., & Smith, R. (2001). Journeys from childhood to midlife: Risk resilience, and recovery. New York: CornellUniversity Press.

Wolin, S., & Wolin, S. (1993). The resilient self: How survivors of troubled families rise above adversity. New York: Villard Books.

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