Six Questions Leaders Ask That Build Resilient Teams

Guest Post by Nathan Magnuson, republished from his site. Join Nathan next week for his interactive webinar Leading with Resilience in the New Year on Dec 11 at 1pm.

No one has gone untouched in 2020. But it hasn’t just been the COVID-19 pandemic that has impacted each person, it’s the repercussions. Work instability, financial hardship, rapid pace of change, family lifestyle adjustments, isolation and loneliness. The stress, anxiety and pressure have reached new levels for many individuals. One Johns Hopkins study noted that one in four individuals will suffer a mental health disorder in any given year… and that was before COVID came.

These are the people you work with. These are the ones you lead. This is your reality in 2020.

Resilience is the ability to persist through challenging situations and overcome adversity. But what is the leader’s role in these challenging times? How can leaders provide the resilience their teams so desperately need?

Here are six questions leaders should use with their teams to get the conversation started:

What has been the most difficult part of this experience?

This is a tough place to start, but gives permission for a person to name the toughest aspect of their distress. The invitation alone is saturated in empathy. But the real magic is in the clarifying power of identifying the greatest source of the adversity for what it is. Converting sentiment into language begets self-awareness, which is the first step in becoming resilient.

How are you taking care of yourself? Is it enough?

Solution statements work well… some of the time. Perhaps if you’re the turnaround consultant or politician running for office. But when it comes to handling adversity – and the stress that comes with it – everyone’s situation is incredibly unique. Your self-prescribed solutions will likely miss the mark.

Simply asking “are you taking care of yourself?” is great encouragement. Asking “how” opens the dialogue. And tacking on “is it enough?” gives permission to make the required effort a top priority.

How can we better recognize when a teammate is struggling?

Resilience is a team sport. The worst thing any of us can do is struggle alone in silence. When leaders attempt to shoulder the load as an example of strength, the team follows suit – to everyone’s detriment. In fact, the best thing a leader can do is admit some of their own challenges – it normalizes the experiences of the team.

Because many of us have become so adept at hiding our inner battles under the guise of mental toughness, this question challenges our natural instinct as leaders. It encourages openness while also soliciting team support. The true mark of a resilient team is when team members proactively support one another.

What personal contribution makes you the most proud?

The word “contribution” relates directly to our individual sense of purpose. Purpose may be the most powerful force for overcoming adversity, because it provides meaning and significance despite the struggle. The core of any effective purpose is the opportunity to serve others.

We all have a contribution to make. When times are tough, put purpose front and center. It can fuel each person’s recovery.

Who have you been able to support through this?

Can you be a wounded healer? Perhaps the best leaders are just that.

There’s a story of a hiker who became stuck in a wilderness blizzard. As he hurried to make his way back, he encountered another man who had nearly succumbed to the cold. Despite his urgency to escape the worsening conditions, the hiker stopped to rub the feeling back into the man’s legs and feet until they were both able to return to safety.

The health professionals said afterward that had the hiker pressed on without stopping, both men would have perished alone in the elements. The hiker needed a break and a chance to reset his own blood flow just as badly as the compromised man needed assistance. In reality, the two men saved each other.

Just because a person is struggling doesn’t disqualify them from helping others – in fact, it may qualify them all the more. If you’re leading with a limp, you may be just the leader your team needs.

How can I support you?

This may be my favorite leadership question of all-time. Leaders set the example. They go first. They provide backup. Don’t make your team wonder, “Will my leader support me?” Set the tone from upfront, especially in times of adversity.

If you’ve picked up on the theme of “togetherness” through these questions, you’ve been paying attention! The only way teams make it through challenging times is together.

What question will you ask your team to set the resilience conversation in motion?

Don’t forget to register for Nathan’s webinar Leading with Resilience in the New Year next week on Dec 11!



Nathan Magnuson


Nathan Magnuson is a corporate leadership consultant, facilitator and author of Stand Out! and Ignite Your Leadership Expertise. Nathan delivers innovative corporate leadership training and emerging leader programs. Contact Nathan at


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