Joshua Smith: How to Be a Resilient Manager (Ep. #10)

Published on
February 4, 2020
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Building Better Managers Podcast Episode #10: How To Be A Resilient Manager with Joshua Smith

Resiliency in the face of our constantly challenging world is a necessary skill for all of your managers to possess. Resilient mangers are courageous, determined, purposeful and thrive when adversity and transitions are in play. Joshua Smith shares his unique vision into how to foster resiliency to get real results.

In this episode, you'll learn:

Meet Joshua Smith

  • Bio & Background
  • Philosophy and Influences


  • What's the difference between hard work and grit?
  • Angela Duckworth's work on grit as "passion and sustained persistence applied toward long-term achievement, with no particular concern for rewards or recognition along the way."
  • How does willpower play a role in developing grit?


  • How is being curious an important resilience strategy for managers?
  • How curiosity can lead to psychological safety.
  • Carol Dweck's research on developing a growth mindset.
  • Curiosity helps managers manage more effectively - it keeps an important part of the brain active and online in high stress situations.


  • Doesn't compassion pose a risk to managers when tough decisions are required?
  • Kristin Neff's research uncovered that up to 76% of people actually have more compassion for others that they do for themselves!
  • People who suffer from the Impostor Syndrome are shown to have little access to self-compassion, resulting in feeling "fraudulent".
  • How Self-Compassion, Compassion and Psychological Safety go hand-in-hand.
  • The difference between a "fail fast" culture where we can make mistakes and quick adjustments as part of the process vs a culture that lacks compassion and chastises people for making mistakes, misstatements or miscalculations.
  • Some ways managers can be self-compassionate.


  • Managers often get confused over what they can and cannot control.
  • How do managers set stronger boundaries?
  • What about when manager boundaries aren't strong enough?
  • Steven Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has a great model on spheres of influence that has often been used to show how boundaries work.
  • Examples from the workplace.

Energy Surplus

  • Energy Surplus fulfills the physical/biological aspect of resilience which isn't appreciated enough in most resilience literature.
  • Antionio Demasio's analogy: Imagine that energy is money, and all you do is earn enough money to live and just have enough money each month to pay your bills.
  • Equilibrium or homeostasis is misunderstood when it comes to resilience, it isn't maintaining a balance of energy or even "bouncing back" as it's often defined.
  • Equilibrium in resilience is about how to build surpluses of energy, how to build up your "Resilience Bank Account."
  • Ways that managers can work differently to make sure they have a 'credit' in their Resilience Bank Account?

Downloads & Resources

Follow Joshua on LinkedIn.

Subscribe to our podcast on your favorite podcast platform!

Check out our blog articles on Leadership here.

About Joshua Smith

Joshua Smith is the co-creator of The Impostor Breakthrough and Managing Director of Adapt Faster, Ltd. He is an executive coach and behavior specialist focusing on neuroscience-informed approaches to mindfulness, leadership and resilience. He currently coaches executives and teams globally, and leads courses in resilience, leadership, agile team building and mindfulness in trauma therapy. Joshua has completed High Impact Leadership training at the University of Cambridge, has fulfilled programs in mindfulness and neuroscience at the University of Oxford, and has trained in Neuroscience of Leadership at MIT Sloan Executive Education.

Joshua is co-author of The Happy Teacher: 11 Rs Every Teacher Should Know. As a result of his work, he was invited to a White House reception to greet Queen Elizabeth II. Joshua has presented leadership, resilience and team-building seminars around the world.

Joshua is based in London and travels frequently for work in the US.

View the episode transcript

Wendy Hanson: Hi Welcome. Oh, it’s so great to have you all here today. Today, we are going to talk about how to be a resilient manager. The role of being a manager has many challenges on a day-to-day basis. The work of a manager is to foster an environment of trust and productivity and help people use their strengths, so they can make their biggest contribution to the business and be happy at work. At Better Manager, we have had the privilege of being executive coaches and thought partners to thousands of people and help managers make a difference. Today, we are going to talk about resilience. My guest, Joshua Smith, defines it as physical, emotional, and psychological ability to adapt and respond to adversities and challenges. If you have ever managed people or want to move into management, there’s a lot of wisdom here for you. So let me tell you a little bit more about Joshua.

Wendy Hanson: Joshua Smith is the co-creator of the Imposter Breakthrough and managing director of Adapt Faster Limited. He is an executive coach and behavioral specialist, focusing on neuroscience-informed approaches to mindfulness, leadership, and resilience. He currently coaches executives and teams globally, and leads courses in resilience, leadership, agile team building, and mindfulness in trauma therapy. Joshua has completed High-Impact Leadership training at the University of Cambridge, has fulfilled programs in mindfulness in neuroscience at the University of Oxford, and has trained in Neuroscience of Leadership at MIT Sloan Executive Education. Joshua is co-author of “The Happy Teacher: 11 Rs Every Teacher Should Know.” As a result of his work, he was invited to the White House reception to greet Queen Elizabeth II. Joshua has presented leadership, resilience and team-building seminars around the world. You may have guessed by now that Joshua is based in London, but he travels frequently to the US for work.

Wendy Hanson: Welcome Joshua, it’s so wonderful to have you on the program.

Joshua Smith: It’s such a pleasure to be here.

Wendy Hanson: Ah, this is such an exciting topic about.... we have been thinking so much at BetterManager about agility and resilience, two very important pieces of being a manager. And I love how you have been able to bucket these concepts. We’re going to walk through talking about grit, curiosity, compassion and self-compassion, boundaries, and something I have thought about, but never heard labelled before – energy surplus. So, wow! First…. give us a little overview – you know what – quick overview, and then we are going to get into looking at what grit is.

Joshua Smith: Thanks Wendy. Resilience is a huge field because we have so many issues in the real place, from the same point of what really burn-out. There are people, mental health challenges and stress because we are in a situation where we’re constantly bombarded with technology. We struggle with the ability to literally shut off our phones, step away from our computers, even find a way to leave work and spend some time with our families. So in our training, one of the challenges put forward to groups is, okay, it’s 6 p.m. and you have a very special event that you have to go to. It’s a family event. And you have told your senior manager that this is necessary, this particular event. And your senior manager comes to you with something very, very important to do. What do you do? It’s your senior manager and you don’t want to disappoint this person. You A, just send a text, make a call “I’ll be late” to your friends or colleagues. B, Do you have a conversation with your manager as in how important this is, can this be done by someone else? Or C, do you just do it automatically and don’t even question it and just do it possibly missing, something that might be important to? And this is about boundaries. And the idea here is having the ability to know what’s important to you, having the ability to have conversations with your senior manager that you need to take care of yourself. All this was wrapped up in our ability to respond to adversity or challenges, because that’s something we all run into at some point.

Wendy Hanson: Well, I think that’s such a great point and my answer to that would be C! So let’s try to break these down a little bit. Because there’s boundaries, but the first thing we're going to talk about is grit. How do you define grit? What’s the difference between just really working hard and grit?

Joshua Smith: Right. Well, grit is really an important aspect because it reveals that grit is really about passion and perseverance, and a part of our ability to be determined, and to continue to focus on the long game. And this is something that stresses. Because of the way stress works in the brain, it tends to... when we get really, really stressed... I mean, you know, really stressed. Our brain doesn’t actually know the difference between something that’s a predator in the room that could be a challenge to us and this sense of a deadline that I have to fulfill on. So, if we can’t find a way that actually balanced out, what’s really important to you? What am I really passionate about? What are things that I can do to make sure that I learn the lessons from experiences, like apply next time. But also again this idea of self-care is really important to like, putting myself across, what’s important to me. So as we adapt with a lot of these from time as the children, found that the most successful children in terms of getting higher grades, had a higher correlation to grit determination and they are able to contextualize them. So they are able to…. If they didn’t do well, it’s nothing. They could easily step back and try again even harder.

Wendy Hanson: Hmm. That’s the grit part. It’s being able to like jump back in. And I’m also hearing that piece about when you’re feeling this, this tension and anxiety in your body to know that’s a very primal thing. We are getting mad and you’re not really about to be attacked by a lion. But you could just have stress on the job. So you need to make sure you could differentiate and find some ways to kind of breathe into this and know what reality is, and think about your boundaries which we will talk more about.

Joshua Smith: Yeah, and also you know some managers can be like lions. So let’s face it. I mean some senior managers can be very aggressive, can be bullying. And, this can wear down our sense of will power even. And so grit is also a part of that, the ability to just stay focused. What’s important? What’s my long game? How do I manage to deal with whatever is coming up for me in this moment and stay focused on goals and achievements? Things I really want to accomplish, even given that there is a lion in the room. And that’s it when we say to you think about self-care, and have ways to manage yourself.

Wendy Hanson: Great. So we’re heading towards how we become a more resilient manager so we have grit. The second piece which is a word I am very fond of is curiosity. That is the major skill and focus of a coach – curiosity. How is being curious important to resilience?

Joshua Smith: Well, I love the quote in curiosity about Einstein. He says, "I have no special talents, I’m just passionately curious." I mean he is Einstein. I mean he developed the Theory of Relativity. He has a few talents, I believe, but it’s one of these things and there is a rumor that also Einstein had a bit of imposter syndrome, and he was somebody that was constantly questioning. So curiosity when I lead training these managers, it's often about, can you basically ask questions rather than be critical? Can you explore more about the situation? Again, can you sketch a context where you have more information? This is particularly important in terms of managing staff, even setting up having a difficult conversation on a 360. It’s really important to explore with people what’s happening in the process as well as in design thinking, and agile development. It’s important to understand what’s happening with the customer. I mean what are the customer’s needs? What are they looking for? Where they’re really seeking that, that if they can have magic wand and they could actually wand it in the air, kind of like a Harry Potter in literature, what would they want to be delivered? So curiosity is critical in innovation and design processes.

Wendy Hanson: When we coach managers, we often talk about... if you are to be curious, you have to ask “what” questions instead of asking “why” questions because why questions make it sound like it’s a judgment. Why did you do it that way? And "what" questions.... And it’s really the number one skill according to Google project Oxygen – the research that is done on managers. The number one missing skill was being a good coach and that’s something that even in all of our research it comes at the bottom of when people do their 360s and get feedback. One of the things they absolutely need to work on is to be a better coach. So curiosity is so important. And you also speak about the research on mindset, on having a growth mindset as part of curiosity…

Joshua Smith: Absolutely.

Wendy Hanson: …. Just say a little about that.

Joshua Smith: Well, the main thing is that… I mentioned before about the lion in the room, and the brain can... when we're really stressed, he blood flow actually goes away from the areas in the brain that we will need online to be able to solve problems and be able to write emails, for example. So curiosity is the way to actually keep that part of the brain switched on. Right? So if you think of a lion…. Just think of a lion. Don't think, for example, that you are in a building and you are around concrete.... you are actually in the Savannah grasslands. It's 100,000 years ago. The brain hasn’t changed in 100,000 years. Point is that back then if there was a lion, there wasn't time to think. You didn’t need to think. It was just an immediate reaction, right? Fast forward to 100,000 years, the brain hasn’t changed. So therefore when we get stressed, we tend to be in a situation where we are not working with all our faculties. And we easily start to become negative. And we easily start to retreat back to those old fixed patterns. The concept of a fixed mindset, and when that happens we stay stuck, we have a negativity bias. Growth mindset is an opportunity for people to actually create more of the environment where they can learn something, where they can actually grow. Where they don’t necessarily have the answers, but they can explore what's the possible range of possibilities here. They could have conversations that are creative. They can do research on the net about things to find more about the subject. So, in Carol Dweck's research at Stanford, she realizes that children again, similar to Angela Duckworth, children who really have that sense of curiosity, who have... in Angela Duckworth's case who have grit, Carol Dweck's case have curiosity, have that sort of younger mindset, they just perform better over time.

Wendy Hanson: Yeah. And I think in situations like that we need to realize, we need to take a pause. I often tell people about the 24-hour rule. We do not need to react to many things immediately because if we let it settle and think it through, we will have a much better answer at the end. So moving towards resilience, we have grit, we have curiosity. And the next thing is compassion and self-compassion. I bet you this is something that people don’t think about a lot.

Joshua Smith: [laugh] So true. So true. And the thing is, you know, I have had this feedback. Obviously, I train a lot of mindfulness and I treat private clients as a therapist. I actually work with them to… mindfulness is one of the most important aspects, by the way. Creating a way to build both mindset and having the ability to pause, for example, to not be so judgmental. But compassion is even more interesting because compassion is actually identifying with the suffering of others. Suffering of others, that sounds pretty serious, but actually it’s important in terms of opening up our sense of humanity and our sense of shared humanity in that sense. And in the workplace sometimes that’s really important because we never really know the stress that somebody is under. We just don’t know and depending on the type of manager that a person is, they might feel uncomfortable having those kinds of conversations with someone. I want to show you as well, but the research is quite clear about how managers who are more compassionate actually build more trust. And trust is very important for teams actually bonding and creating a sense of shared purpose and a sense of shared vision that can be achieved much faster with a sense of compassion.  

Wendy Hanson: We often talk about the managers who have empathy are really the most successful managers. And they are able to know people on their team at a different level. We ask some questions during our MAP 360 at etterManager. Do you know the names of the closest relatives or friends or people on your team? And people ask why do you ask that question; you know that doesn’t seem right. Well, if you don’t know that, if John comes in looking really bedraggled every day and you don’t understand that maybe he has a new baby or maybe he just broke up his marriage or whatever. You’re not going to be able to be empathetic and compassionate about setting someone up for success. And then we move towards our self-compassion, which I love. You know, we actually had Paul Larsen on talking about Imposter Syndrome once before because that has become such a thing that’s out there. So tell us a little bit about self-compassion.

Joshua Smith: Well, that’s a great segue because self-compassion is pretty much what Imposter Phenomenon people who suffer from that, don’t have. So self-compassion is our ability to be kind to ourselves and most importantly honor ourselves first, but not in a egotistical or narcissistic, but just in a way where we are realizing there are lot of demands, whether it’s as a head of a family or head of a division or head of a team. There are a lot of demands being pushed on us, and sometimes resilient people are able to help themselves first. It’s a bit like that rigged conversation, realizing that’s my long game here. I have to take care of myself along the way. So Kristin Neff is a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin. And this is really interesting mainly because in her questionnaires, she discovered that 76% of people are more compassionate with others than they are with themselves. So basically what that means is 76% of people are more than happy to basically forgive others if there’s a mistake, but then beat themselves up. And that is really something that’s going to lower our resilience

Wendy Hanson: So we need to have both. We have to have compassion for others, but we can’t forget about having compassion for ourselves.

Joshua Smith: That’s right.

Joshua Smith: People that tend to have too much compassion for others, I have noticed, there’s a direct correlation to overfunctioning behavior and to burning out, meaning they take on so many tasks to try to help someone or try to fill in for the team because someone’s likely behind and they end up being exhausted.

Wendy Hanson: It brings us to the next issue which fits in very perfectly. So, so far we have grit, curiosity, compassion, self-compassion. Now, boundaries. I think you were just leaning towards boundaries nonetheless.

Joshua Smith: Ah, this is it. This is my subject. Boundaries, I love it. I love boundaries. So if anybody has a question about what boundaries are…. Boundaries are like the terrible twos. If anyone has children…. they have a 2-year-old, 3-year-old… and you know, think they are just your favorite child. Then one day, they just go, "No mommy, no." [laugh] That’s the boundary. Right? So, boundaries often are associated with our ability to differentiate ourselves, meaning can we actually find our sense of space? Can we actually find time for ourselves or do we feel that we have to act on behalf of others, take care of others or that we have to do that extra email, because if we don’t then something bad is going to happen? Right?

Boundaries allow us to actually say – you know what – I’m going to stop this right now. And I am going to take a break or to be able to have a conversation with someone, a difficult conversation where I know my limits. I know how far I’m going to go, and I’m just not going any further unless I step away, get 24 hours. Right? And think about it. Right? So boundaries are really important that ability to differentiate space and know that I have my own space that is mine and I am entitled to that space. And if I have to protect it, then that’s what I’ll do by saying no, about maybe suggesting that someone considers other options.

Wendy Hanson: Well, that brings up a lot for me because when I think of this, how do managers set boundaries and still be perceived as a team player? You know, there are times that I don’t have boundaries, because there’s work that needs to be done and I have people that might send me an email at 9 o’clock at night and I can’t just say, I’m not going to answer that because it really is going to be important to the business. So, how do you have boundaries and try to not perceived as I am a manager that’s  in the middle of the terrible twos.

Joshua Smith: Yeah. Well, actually these are starting to come into play. So one way to have boundaries is to simply ask questions. So if we go back to the example, at 6 o’clock he had this…. there is a family event or something very personal. Senior manager goes, can you do this? I just need your input on it. Just we need to turn around. If we don’t have that ability to..... So yes, I'd love to do it and I have a family event. So, what is the timeframe... what... on this? Is it something that has to be done tonight? Can it be something that I look at even later this evening after my family event or is it something that another member of the team could actually look at first, see if they can complete it and then if they have any problems, get in contact?

So without those boundaries, you just automatically do it. You just don’t even question it. And this is interesting on this subject, that the sense of being..... So there is research on salaries and differences of salaries between women and men, for example, what we are finding in our Imposter Breakthrough research, is that people with boundaries have the ability to actually get higher salaries because they have the ability to have boundaries, and to walk away from something. They can walk away from something that’s not right, rather than feel so compelled to have to do it and be part of that team. So boundaries are are an entitlement of work. So gaining that entitlement makes sense of it. And people who are entitled can say no. Right? People who struggle with saying "no," also struggle with a sense of deserving more. Isn’t that interesting?.

Wendy Hanson: I love the fact that, that you can have boundaries and still exceed, and move on to different situations, because sometimes I look at that... It’s tough if I ask somebody for something on my team and I know that somebody else is waiting for that. I get impatient. So I’m on both sides of that fence and I can understand that, that is a challenge. But we need to make sure that we can self-preserve. It always reminds me of the old metaphor we use all the time of – you know, you are on a plane. You have to put on your oxygen mask first. Otherwise, you are not able to help anybody else.

Joshua Smith: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right.

Wendy Hanson: Yeah. So we have grit, curiosity, compassion, self-compassion, boundaries, and the final piece of being a resilient manager is to have energy surplus.

Joshua Smith: Yeah.

Wendy Hanson: So how can managers work differently to make sure they have credit in their resilience bank account? I love that concept.

Joshua Smith: Yeah, I love it too. And I tell you. So, spoiler alert, this is the most important one for me [laugh] because I was in a room of about a thousand people, basically a neuroscience conference, and there's a very famous neuroscientist, Antonio Damasio, who's written many books on neuroscience. And so he gives this lecture. He goes, "How many people in the room think that homeostasis is achieving a balance or equilibrium?" And everybody raises their hand. He goes, "Wrong, because if all we did was to maintain a balance of energy, we would have died off millions of years ago." And everybody's shaking their head, "What do you mean?" He goes, "Put it this way, if all you did was work to earn enough money to pay your bills, and that’s all you did, that was your strategy, and then something happens where you need a new heater, you need a new dishwasher, new washer, whatever, what happens? Well, you have to go on a deficit." And that’s exactly what happens with resilience. If you don’t find ways to build up your energy, whether that's working out, taking breaks at work, finding a way for many hard working managers. I know it’s almost impossible to have a work/life balance. That’s a joke. However, finding ways to spend time with your family in those busy periods, being able to take some time when you know you have some slack periods, to take that time with your family. These things are all important for creating that surplus, that positive balance in our reserve account of resilience because something... adversity is going to happen. It’s a bit like death and taxes, right? It’s going to happen. Right? So you might as well be prepared for it by making sure you do the things that energize you, that give you energy.

Wendy Hanson: Right. So when you need it, you have something to take it from. It’s that old analogy that we use a lot about if you had a safe and you had to put deposits in the safe. If you don’t put deposits in, you are never going to be able to take a withdrawal out. So we need to take care of our energy. So we have that surplus when things get tough. Otherwise, and we are already depleted, we will totally fall apart.

Joshua Smith: Sure. And you know what, unless we are aware it happens so much in the workplace, that people do actually crash.

Wendy Hanson: Right. So wow! A lot of things for people to think about. You know that some of the big takeaways for me is certainly the energy piece, the self-compassion, being able to really understand that we need to set boundaries, and it is a positive situation. We need to set them in a way that we are most comfortable with. And to understand what grit is. We are all going to work hard and it’s our expectations often of ourselves and we have to be very empathetic and compassionate with the people we lead on teams, so that we know that they are going through all these struggles too.

So to be a resilient manager.... I always think when humans come to work every day, they come differently. To be a resilient manager, you really have a lot of work to do. You’re not only trying to move the business forward, but you’re trying to help individuals be their best self. And that’s not always easy because you never know how we are all going to show up for work. And as a manager, we always talk about you are on the stage all the time. As soon as you get out of your car in the morning, people are looking at you. So you need to be able to exude and show and demonstrate the energy that the team is going to feel, "Yah, we are in this today."

Joshua Smith: That’s right. And if you don’t take care of yourself? Then the juggler isn’t going to have enough energy to keep all those things going on.

Wendy Hanson: That’s great. Well Joshua, this has been awesome. And if people have questions for you where they want to reach out to you, what’s the best way to reach you. We will put this on our website on the podcast. But give us a little information, so people can touch base if they have a question.

Joshua Smith: Absolutely. So my website is adaptfaster.com and you can send me an email at joshua@AdaptFaster.com.

Wendy Hanson: Great. And you are mainly in London, but luckily you come to California periodically……

Joshua Smith: I have to go to San Francisco just to get some rays.

Wendy Hanson: Absolutely, and that will provide a little bit more energy for you.

Wendy Hanson: Right. All right. Well, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom today about these managers out there and we look forward to further conversations. And I look forward to your book in the future and all the work that you’re doing, which is very important work.

Joshua Smith: Okay. Cheers.

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