From adversity in childhood to success in business

How resilience in childhood can translate to inspirational leadership

What makes a person resilient? How is it that some people manage to overcome adversity and become stronger, wiser, more compassionate? What are the characteristics of people who manage to become successful leaders, despite experiencing challenges such as abuse, neglect and disadvantage in their childhood?

eduard-militaru-189977 For some, it is simply a decision to be change and be different. Some people are highly motivated to do everything different for the next generation and challenge themselves to act differently to the modelling they received. However, notwithstanding social structures such as quality public education, healthcare and connected communities which soften the impacts of disadvantage, research tells us that there are some key characteristics which children who are inherently more resilient have over others, which help them along their road to success.

Being female and of above average intelligence are two of the key factors which increase likelihood of resilience in children. However, likeability is arguably one of the most important.

Why is likeability so important? How does likeability translate into being able to overcome disadvantage? Well, when we consider that we are social creatures and that connectedness is essential to our personal and professional success, we notice that children and young people who are likeable are more likely to experience connectedness in a positive way. Children who are able to reach out, to accept nurturing from others, who smile and who are affectionate physically and emotionally, who are funny and engaging – these children lead people to want to be with them. Some children who may be living in difficult circumstances at home, manage to gather a village of caring adults around them who can take steps to protect them. Whether they be family members, parents of friends, teachers or sports coaches, these adults see the child’s potential and want to invest in it. They buffer the child’s negative experiences by helping them see the world can be a safe place.

Children with likeability are more able to engage in a reciprocal process with their village. When the village offers love and friendship to the child, the child responds in such a way which directly impacts on the satisfaction the village receives in return for their giving. Children who respond positively to others are more likely to experience continued reciprocity. Children who struggle to engage with others are more likely to experience withdrawal of friendship and support.  


Children and young people who receive consistent emotional investment from strong, stable adults outside the home, grow up with messages such as ‘you are worthy, you are accepted’, despite what counter messages they may be receiving at home. These messages help boost self-esteem and later, self-actualisation. 

For those resilient children who grow into successful adults in business and in life, their leadership can be very powerful. Not only do they possess the same ‘likeability’ which served them well as children, they have a striking authenticity and often finely tuned emotional intelligence. They have adapted to not only survive their circumstances, but to flourish. In the welfare sector, these leaders command respect from both clients and colleagues, being able to ‘walk the walk’ on both sides of the fence.

Progressive organisations who see the benefit of a leader who can level with the client base and hold themselves with senior management, are in the unique position of being able to harness this authenticity to increase their social capital. People feel more connected to a leader who shows some vulnerability amongst their strength. By building some appropriate, direct experiences of the leader into the internal and external corporate messaging can help to increase public confidence in the values and purpose of an organisation.

tamarcus-brown-266128.jpgFor more on this subject, see Brene Brown’s popular TedX talk, The Power of Vulnerability

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