What does resilience mean?

The term “resilience” (from Latin resilire, meaning to leap back or rebound) does not have a standard definition. One nice instance is provided by materials science, which defines those materials as resilient which return to their original state even after have been subjected to extreme tension (cf. elastic vs plastic deformation). And according to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, resilience is an “action of rebounding or leaping back” and the “ability to recover readily from, or resist being affected by, a setback, illness, etc.” [und] Bamboo may serve as an analogy here, or – for those with a more athletic approach – Thera bands.

The necessity of resistance

More than ever, today’s environment is characterised by rapidly and massively changing framework conditions. It is not an exaggeration to describe the last two decades as a polycrisis, marked with terrorism, the financial crisis, the refugee crisis, the pandemic, Russia/Ukraine, the climate crisis, the energy crisis, inflation and trade wars. Disruptions with global changes and impairments (keyword: VUCA world), from which there was no escape, have been chasing each other at short intervals. As if this were not enough, the focus of the Western world is increasingly on the issue of values, which is exerting pressure at further levels. Everything is interconnected with everything else, and all individuals are linked up with their environments several times over, as well as being systemically integrated. We have to be able to react flexibly and resistantly, and this without the remedy of finding sufficient time for appropriate regeneration in between. To be able to do so, we have to believe in our own strength to change, and to be able to muster it.

Its relevance to the legal profession

Today lawyers – and here, we primarily refer to those in legal departments and law firms – are under great pressure from a variety of quarters. Customers have high expectations, competition is on the increase, progressive digitalisation is important for “knowledge workers”, in particular, and the management of new generations with changed requirements is challenging successful business and working models.

Superiors share this pressure with their staff, or pass it on to them. Staff members, in turn, are not only under professional pressure to make no professional mistakes (keyword: liability), but also under high pressure regarding time and deadlines, since many pending cases have to be worked on in parallel. Juggling all these balls at the same time is already a challenge for them. Added to this, their expected daily performance is relevant to their careers, i.e. it provides the basis for decisions concerning their further employment, salary increases and bonus payments, promotion and other development opportunities. And women have to cope with additional challenges. If professional performance pressure is compounded with the private environment – partner, children, family, friends, spare time – the working day can soon turn into an endurance test. It therefore does not come as a surprise that issues such as stress, well-being, burnout or alcohol/drug consumption are already being discussed as a profession-specific problem.

Resilience as a topic of self-management

Basically, above-average performance, high working intensity and ambitious goals are not a bad thing. Also, resilience is not tantamount to standing still; rather, it does not only guarantee the preservation of one’s own employability but also allows for sustainable growth. However, the point is to recognise one’s own limits and to take one’s bearings from them. Primarily, every individual is responsible for himself or herself – to ensure that the stress imposed on body, mind and soul will not cause any lasting damage and that – to return to the analogy of bamboo referred to earlier on – despite adverse circumstances, it will always be possible to return to the original state while continuing to grow at the same time. The secret may well also be to discern coming disruptions and challenges in good time, to carefully prepare for them in advance and to continually reinforce one’s robustness. In that case, there will be no need to react to surprises in an impulsive and erratic manner. However, employers and professional associations bear an equally great responsibility. Indeed, resilience is not only an individual issue, but also applies to other systems such as a company, the economy, a society, a nation and the whole planet. Which brings us back full circle to the initially mentioned principle of sustainability.


Strategies, models and approaches abound as to how we recognise individual and situational risk factors, how we can protect ourselves against injuries and boost our own resilience. The main point is to become aware of the problem, to question ourselves self-critically and if need be make – possibly disagreeable – decisions and trigger off change. As people say: you can’t prevent bad weather, but it’s easier to bear if you’re wearing the right clothes. And a spot of optimism and hope can never hurt.

About us

The Law & Management division of the Executive School of the University of St.Gallen (HSG) has been providing executive education at all levels (week-long seminars, CAS, DAS, Executive Master) as open programmes and tailor-made in-house courses since 2007 and is currently doing so in eight subject areas. To date, more than 1,600 participants have attended the open executive education pro-grammes, which are continually being updated and extended. The comprehensive executive education format that was introduced in 2021 is expressive of a clear commitment to lifelong learning in that all the courses are modular in design and can be arranged flexibly in terms of time and according to individual requirements. Above and beyond this, the following executive education objectives are being pursued: get-ting to know many-faceted career perspectives and options, establishing and expanding networks, benefitting from new methods and tools, and generally extending participants’ personal horizons.

About the author(s)

1 Bruno Mascello UNI SG PORTRAIT 0112222287 INTERNET

Prof. Dr. Bruno Mascello Director, Academic Director Law & Management


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