You do not need to be New England Patriots QB Tom Brady to be resilient. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

This article is about one word: Resilience. Your ability to be resilient will put you in a position to accomplish things you thought were not possible. It will help you and your team recover quickly from defeat and adjust easily to change. Can you think of a time when you doubled down against all odds and transformed adversity into a resounding success?

The Super Bowl

More than 111 million people watched Super Bowl LI Feb. 5 and saw the biggest comeback in the championship game in NFL history. With the Atlanta Falcons leading 28-3 in the third quarter, it would have been easy for the New England Patriots to give up, lose focus and begin thinking about some well-deserved time off after a grueling season. But the Patriots’ offense and defense stepped up and scored 31 unanswered points. What we watched was an outstanding example of resilience. Please note, you don’t have to be Tom Brady to be resilient.

My personal story

Nearly 20 years ago, I was recruited to run the consumer division of a mid-sized company serving the industrial market and the home improvement industry. The industrial division was well-established and had a strong customer base, however the consumer division was quite small, struggling in a crowded and highly competitive market, and losing a significant amount of money. What I learned about this privately held company after I had joined it was that the entire company was truly on the brink of bankruptcy with significant cash-flow problems. We needed something big to happen and it needed to happen quickly. I found out that one of the largest retailers was holding a product-line review and I persuaded them to invite us to the review, despite the fact that they had never heard of our company and already had eight other companies coming to the review, including two incumbent suppliers. My reputation was on the line, as the lead merchant only agreed to let us into this review because he knew me from my prior company. The problem was that we did not yet have retail packaging or promotional materials, we had no data or competitive information, we did not yet have a recommended product mix for an 8-foot section in the stores, and the line review was being held in just six weeks. At first I panicked and actually told my wife that I just don’t know what I had gotten myself into with this new position.

Gary A. Cohen (Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business.) Gary A. Cohen (Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.)

I pulled my very small team together and told them this would take a huge commitment, working days, nights, weekends and bringing in outside experts – for example a graphic design firm to help us with our packaging and point-of-purchase materials. I asked them if they were able to put everything they had into this effort. I asked them if they believed we could out-maneuver and out-muscle our established competitors. This was an opportunity for us to have faith in ourselves, our talents, skills and abilities, and to come back from a deep deficit, based on our ability to be resilient. Those six weeks of non-stop work and very little sleep paid off for us. We came to the review with the most attractive and innovative packaging, point-of-purchase materials that encouraged multiple purchases, and a fresh product mix. The team of merchants were quite surprised and our competitors in the retail market who barely knew us were caught completely off-guard. We were immediately awarded a 100-store test and that quickly turned into being awarded this retailer’s business in nearly 1,500 of their stores. That success helped us win business at a couple of other very large retailers. The company made a huge comeback and today, nearly nine years since I departed the company they have taken their business to all new heights. Our team was resilient, believing that we could make this happen, that we could out-perform the competition, and we became a significant player in the consumer market.

To be a winner, resilience is a must

So, if resilience is a must, what does it take to embrace this trait? It certainly requires an individual to shift their perspective. Self-help author and motivational speaker Wayne Dyer once said, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Really think about that. We as humans tend to look at things from our own default perspective. We are often stuck, looking through our particular lens without thought that the view may be much better through a lens other than our own. When you face a horrible or adverse situation at work, it is so easy to dwell on the negatives. People who are resilient will approach this differently. They may acknowledge that the current situation is difficult at best, but they will bounce back and think about the ways they can turn the situation into an opportunity, a more attractive picture. As a leader, this is a trait you always want to embrace.

Your next steps

Look at every situation, no matter how difficult, as a new opportunity to shine. Believe in yourself, believe in your team, and know that it is truly your positive attitude, strong work ethic and winning competitive spirit that will drive your resilience. The next time you are in a tough situation and it looks like you are unable to win, reframe your perspective, look through that new lens, dig in your heels, and make a commitment to persevere and succeed. Nobody wins all of the time, but your record will vastly improve with a strong dose of resilience.

Gary A. Cohen is associate dean of the Office of Executive Programs at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. He is a certified executive coach and prior to joining the faculty at Smith, he had a successful 30-year corporate career, with the last 15 as a senior executive. He can be reached at, @gary_a_cohen, and on LinkedIn.