Strategies for Personal and Professional Resilience

Martha JohnsonMartha Johnson could write the book on personal resilience and she has. It’s called On My Watch: Leadership, Innovation, and Personal Resilience. It includes more than her personal story of how she bounced back after the onslaught of the Congressional Hearings in April, 2012. It’s about how a creative leader carries out innovative strategies and the lessons she learned about how to lead and motivate employees in such a diverse organization as the GSA.

Personal Resilience Began at a Young Age

Martha credits her mother with teaching her to welcome change and be optimistic about it. Her mother instructed Martha and her sisters and brothers to rearrange their rooms before moving from house to house. It was fun for Martha and a way to exercise creative change. Another point of view that Martha learned from her family was the importance of arming yourself with education. Her mother and both grandmothers had college degrees, while neither of her grandfathers were college educated. Martha herself graduated from Yale School of Management with an MBA.

Other resources also came into play after she “hit the wall.” First came her network of friends, family and associates. Martha stresses that you must create these relationships well in advance of a crisis. Her support fell into three groups:

  1. The first group brought banana bread and sympathy.
  2. The next group was angry and she was comforted by the feeling that they wanted to fight for her.
  3. The third group called and e-mailed with messages of “buck up,” get on with it. It’s Washington.

They all helped her by reminding her who she is: a self-reliant woman with a 35-year career of executive management credentials in world-wide organizations, 2 commissions with the British government, 8 years with the Clinton Administration and 2 years with the Obama Administration.

However, Martha says, when you hit the wall, part of you is missing. That’s when it’s important to take action. She recommends that you try something creative. She says that women are incredibly creative, all of us are. She wrote a novel called, In Our Midst. This creative outlet has left her wanting to write more novels and pursue a larger writing career. To learn more, check out her blog at

Other Qualities that Promote Resilience

Martha notes the frequency and severity of the crises that occur today: the weather and the financial crisis for example. In her case, her low point was the two days that Congress literally screamed at her about something she was not directly in control of and really was only vaguely aware of. But as the Administrator of the GSA, she accepted responsibility for the employees’ actions. And in 2012 (an election year) she resigned to limit campaign fall out.

Dr. Nancy points out how women hide their strengths by not tooting their own horn. Martha agrees that we do trip over ourselves and get in our own way. She stresses the importance of being self-aware:

  • To know and take note of how we appear to others
  • How we sound
  • How we dress
  • What kind of impression we make.

Of course, the most important attribute is optimism. Martha says a manager is always optimistic: cheering on and motivating the employees, selling the mission, always recruiting and so on. But she is also personally optimistic and views her 2012 crisis as an opportunity for positive change.

Listen to hear more valuable tips and information in this conversation, like who are the most powerful women and how things are changing to help women make a positive impact the world.


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