We think we know what it means to be resilient – but do we? It’s not only about having the strength to overcome adversity but also, importantly, about changing or transforming some aspect of that adversity (Hart et al, 2016). The entrepreneur Noëlla Coursaris Musunka could be said to embody both.

Musunka was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) but was forced to leave at just five years old after her father died, returning 13 years later to be shocked by the poverty. Driven by her passion to improve the lives of other African girls through education, Musunka founded the Malaika School and community centre in DRC, a free school offering a quality education and a community centre offering practical skills programmes. It has become a model for education in the DRC.

Musunka transformed the lives of girls and their families who would otherwise have faced adversity similar to that which she encountered - the school and community centre benefit over 16,000 people every year. But how, after overcoming early adversity, did Musunka become such a transformative and positive leader?

Doug Strycharczyk, CEO of AQR International, would describe it as mental toughness. Musunka’s resilience enabled her to overcome her early hardship and mental toughness gave her the drive to keep going with a difficult task. She describes the people who engage with the school as “her biggest inspiration”, displaying a positive mindset that enables her to see challenges as opportunities to learn rather than obstacles to be overcome. 

Strycharczyk identifies four factors that contribute to mental toughness: challenge (stretch yourself), confidence (in your abilities and relationships), commitment (goal orientation) and control (emotional). As a leader you may recognise these traits in yourself and your team, but a group of mentally tough individuals does not always make a mentally tough team. It is the cohesion and creativity within the team and how team members support and trust each other, that creates mental toughness collectively. 

So how do you create this creativity and cohesion - and a mentally tough team - through your leadership? Here are our three Top Tips: 

1.    Recognise and reward perseverance

Make sure you recognise perseverance as well as achievement - praising effort is hugely motivating. It creates a virtuous circle if you encourage the individual passions and strengths within your team. When teams focus on what matters most to them they are more likely to persevere.

2.    Model mental toughness

An effective leader models mental toughness through their actions every day. You must ‘walk the talk’, but for this you must build and access your own support networks to get the help and encouragement you need to maintain your own levels of mental toughness.

3.    Be positive 

Mental toughness is not only reflecting on and learning from your experiences, but also being positive about them. The role of leadership is to enable people to be the best they can be – embrace rather than fear the pace of change that so many of us experience. 

How to be a resilient leader in practice

Watch our free webinar on resilience, try our flagship e-learning tool, MyLeadership, and take our MyLeadership Opportunities assessment to highlight where your experience and potential strengths lie. Receive a free, personalised report including customised suggestions for maximising your leadership development opportunities.