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What our Olympic athletes can teach us about resilience

This column is part of Globe Careers' new Leadership Lab series, where executives and leadership experts share their views and advice about the leadership and management issues of today. There will be a new column every weekday. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

Every time the Olympic Games roll around, we are reminded on a daily basis of the ecstasy of victory and the agony of defeat.

Both were evident on the first two days of competition as we watched the Dufour-Lapointe sisters, Chloé and Justine, climb onto the podium to cheers, and slopestyle snowboard favourite, Spencer O'Brien, crumble to tears. Ms. O'Brien won't be the only athlete of these Winter Games to have her dreams shattered. It's the nature of sport and, increasingly, it's becoming the nature of our work world.

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Olympians train for years for their chance to show the world they are – at that moment – the best of the best. To get to the top requires athletes to push the boundaries and take chances. Big bets yield potentially big payoffs. One small mistake – like a mitten on the slopes – and it can all go sideways.

Similarly, today's leaders are facing Olympian-style pressure to take risks – to "change the game" – and come up with wins, year in and year out. Falling short of a stretch goal can be seen as a huge miss, regardless of whether the business may have grown over all and the bottom-line is healthy. For leaders and teams who are used to winning, a miss can be a huge psychological setback. Like any elite athlete on the losing side, how we as leaders cope with setbacks is crucial to our continuing ability to lead and move our teams forward.

Building a resilient mindset is something today's leaders must do to galvanize the confidence needed to recover from setbacks. Here are three ways to build your personal resilience:

1. Look back to launch forward

Instead of focusing on what you haven't achieved and the mistakes you've made, focus on what got you to where you are now. Dwelling on all the things that have set you back will launch you into the land of fear, despair and frustration.

Instead, shift your energy and catalogue all the successes that have led you to where you are today. Try keeping a success journal – noting five things each day that you've accomplished. On days where your confidence is being tested, flipping through that journal will be a great reminder of everything you've accomplished.

2. Line up your cheering section

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After a bad day at the office, you may not have an outpouring of tweets from fellow Canadians encouraging you to keep going, as Ms. O'Brien did, but it is crucial that you line up your own network of support. It's easy in the days and weeks following a big loss to dwell on it too closely. Reach out to your personal cheering section not only for words of encouragement, but also some needed perspective on where the loss fits in with the rest of your life and priorities.

3. Shelve your inner critic

All pressure is internal. How you allow your "inner critic" to treat you following a loss is crucial to how you'll bounce back. Find a way to reframe the negative messages by working with a coach or mentor, or by meditating or practising guided self-reflection. Elite athletes use positive visualization and meditation to get on track and you can, too.

It's important for leaders at all levels to work at building their mental resilience. Sometimes, hard work and good luck come together at the right time. Other times, they don't. It's in the moments of defeat that individuals who have the ability to pick themselves up will move forward.

Glain Roberts-McCabe (@ExecRoundtable) is founder of the Executive Roundtable Inc., a Toronto-based organization that specializes in peer-driven coaching and mentoring programs for mid-career leaders.

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