Resilience skills can be taught, sharpened, practiced, and exercised like an athlete. We work with our clients, so that leaders become malleable, adaptive, intentional, and proactive. Resilience is not often thought of as a skill one can practice and hone, but a great leader will tap into resiliency seamlessly.


Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ebony Smith.

Ebony Smith, founder of Ebenum Equation, is a leadership development specialist with a passion for creating forward-thinking leaders. After 20 years of risk-management experience in the Fortune 100 (Sunoco, BP and World Fuel services), her full-spectrum-lens view of leadership has empowered her to help individuals hone their goals and reach their full potential.

Bringing an innovative, straightforward approach, she pushes individuals to leave their “Subject Matter Expert” mindset behind and become relationship-oriented leaders that drive their organizations into the future.


Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

I have a passion for creating resilient, forward-thinking leaders. I spent 20 years in risk-management in the Fortune 100 (Sunoco, BP, and World Fuel Services). However, something was missing. Eventually, my full-spectrum-lens view of leadership empowered me to dig deeper and venture out to help individuals hone their goals and reach their full potential. And Ebenum Equation was born.

I have a B.S. in Chemistry from Jefferson and an M.S. in Environmental Protection and Safety Management from St. Joseph’s University of Philadelphia. After I attained a PPC (Professional Certified Coach) designation by the ICF (International Coach Federation), I founded the ICF-certified Ebenum Leadership Academy to transform leaders into coaches. I am also a faculty fellow at Florida International University’s Center for Leadership.

I guess you could say leadership is just in my DNA.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

One of the most interesting stories is from after I launched my company. We were accustomed to providing leadership training to corporate and government leaders, but we had a new experience when we provided longitudinal care to an opioid crisis team. As a direct and nearly immediate result of our work, the team had reduced stress overall and increased collaboration. They actively reduced the factors that were leading to crisis clinician burnout in a short amount of time.

What I learned from this experience is that the skills that we teach in our coaching programs are for everyone in every situation. It’s not about having a title or a corner office, it is about being an effective leader not only to help your team, but to help keep yourself accountable and forward moving. It broadened my perspective as to what we were doing and who we were doing it for.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I think one of the biggest factors that sets us apart is that we continuously stay at the forefront of changes and challenges and translate them into opportunities around our leadership training. As such, we have the ability to train not only for the present, but for the future. For example, we synthesize research from think tanks and universities and use it to design leadership development programs that are based on skills for the future.

The ability to deal with those challenges and recognize them as the opportunities they are is what sets the resilient business apart from those that succumb to the disruption. For example, we once had a client that simultaneously wanted to implement a coaching culture, while at the same time, lower coaching expenses. Essentially, they saw the incredible value we provided, but did not want to continue to pay for coaching services on an ongoing basis. They asked us for a solution. Other companies in a similar position may have said it’s not possible or attempted to negotiate on the pricing. Instead, we looked at it as an opportunity not only for our client, but for us.

We used this opportunity to design, write, and certify Ebenum Leadership Academy, an ICF accredited Leadership Coach Training Program written for managers navigating V.U.C.A. environments. With this program, our client had the ability to develop their own leaders as coaches, meeting both of their objectives — implementing a coaching culture and lowering outside coaching expenses.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I am grateful to my Monday mastermind of other business owners. This group acts as a catalyst and jar reader for me in developing thought leadership and encouraging me to play a bigger game. We always focus on exponential growth activities and mindset for success.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

First, let me say how much I love the topic of resilience — so much so that I am known as “The Resilience Architect!”

When most people think about resilience, they think about the ability to recover from setbacks and adapt to change. And I couldn’t agree more, but that’s not all it is. I believe that resiliency is like your favorite TIA, or Auntie. TIA stands for Trust, Intention, and Action because these are the necessary characteristics of resilient people. In order to be resilient, we need to Trust that we know what our next immediate move is (I also call that LEADERSHIP), we need to be Intentional about how we live, and we need to take Action with this intentionality.

Other traits of resilient people include self-awareness, confidence, empathy, flexibility, and control. But without TIA, resilience cannot be built.

Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?

In my opinion, courage and resilience are aligned, but are not the same. They are similar in that they both relate to a certain state of mind and mental ability. However, those states of mind vary depending on if the situation requires resilience or courage or both. Resilience may require courage in certain instances because recovering from a setback or other condition often requires change (which simultaneously evokes fear). But it doesn’t always. In the same way, there are many circumstances in which someone could be courageous without being resilient, such as skydiving or checking something off your bucket list that requires courage, but no recovery from a prior setback.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

I think about athletes, like my nephew, Joshua. Win or lose he shows up each at practice ready to learn and grow. Josh gets so excited about the journey to the next game. It’s the skill building, practices and mindset work that fuels his determination.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

A perfect example of this would be the story I previously mentioned about the time we had a client that simultaneously wanted to implement a coaching culture, while at the same time, lower coaching expenses. Essentially, they saw the incredible value we provided, but did not want to continue to pay for coaching services on an ongoing basis. They asked us for a solution. Other companies in a similar position may have said it’s not possible or attempted to negotiate on the pricing. Instead, we looked at it as an opportunity not only for our client, but for us.

We used this opportunity to design, write, and certify Ebenum Leadership Academy, an ICF accredited Leadership Coach Training Program written for managers navigating V.U.C.A. environments. With this program, our client had the ability to develop their own leaders as coaches, meeting both of their objectives — implementing a coaching culture and lowering outside coaching expenses.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

Every one of us at some point has been pushed near the edge or flattened out or found ourselves having to make a choice when neither option seems particularly appealing.

You could give up. You could stay home. You could… fail. Or, you could fly. You could soar.

It felt pretty scary to me one Monday morning, March, 2015, as I sat shell shocked at home in my pajamas. For the first time in decades, I had no place to be by 7:30 a.m.

I had left behind my role as a global director of derivatives marketing and sales for a Fortune 100 Company. Two weeks prior, they had given me an ultimatum: move again or leave the company. I decided to take the road less traveled and parted ways with the company and a 20-year-career. I even signed off my talents (or so I thought), for a whole year.

Yes, that Monday morning was scary, but at the same time I felt relief and even gratitude for having been cornered into making a decision. I knew in my gut that I had set myself up for this.

After a solid month of relaxing, sleeping in and watching TV, I knew I needed a plan…

I faced my fears, reframed my mindset and tapped into my reserve of resilience (and also my savings account, which I nicknamed SWAN= Sleep Well At Night). Many incredible human beings and resources held me and supported me through the process. Jamie gave me the gift of accountability. Coach training gave me direction for my new career. Dr. Michael Ray’s book Creativity in Business encouraged me be more authentic. And, finally, Joseph Campbell’s research and learnings on his path to bliss, a.k.a. The Hero’s Journey, provided inspiration.

How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

I cultivate resilience through consistent and persistent self-care. My activities include morning walks, writing, learning, meditation, and conversations with my friends. I use my 5% Shift Methodology; I spend 72 minutes a day working on me. I believe self-care is like personal hygiene, the shower you took yesterday will not work for you today. Daily habits conducted over time will have an impact.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

Building resiliency is a conscious act of building your internal TIA — Trust, Intentionality, and Action. Only a strong foundation in each will allow you to move forward, overcome challenges, and create opportunities where none existed before.

Resilience skills can be taught, sharpened, practiced, and exercised like an athlete. We work with our clients, so that leaders become malleable, adaptive, intentional, and proactive. Resilience is not often thought of as a skill one can practice and hone, but a great leader will tap into resiliency seamlessly. Including TIA, steps to do so include:

Embrace change- Career

Take care of yourself — mentally, emotionally, and physically

Trust in yourself

Live intentionally

Take action

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Cheer for yourself, the world may not always value you or your thought leadership. So, you have may to encourage yourself.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

I would love to have private breakfast with Mellody Hobson. I find her leadership lessons very engaging and memorable. I enjoy when she shares her golden nuggets for success.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Author(s)

  • Savio Clemente

    Board Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), #1 Best-selling Author, Syndicated Columnist, Podcaster, and Stage 3 Cancer Survivor

    The Human Resolve LLC

    Savio P. Clemente coaches cancer survivors to overcome the confusion and gain the clarity needed to get busy living in mind, body, and spirit. He inspires health and wellness seekers to find meaning in the “why” and cultivate resilience in their mindset.

    Savio is a Board Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), #1 best-selling author, syndicated columnist, podcaster, stage 3 cancer survivor, and founder of The Human Resolve LLC. He has interviewed notable celebrities and TV personalities and has been featured on Fox News, The Wrap, and has worked with Authority Magazine, Thrive Global, BuzzFeed, Food Network, WW and Bloomberg. Savio has been invited to cover numerous industry events throughout the U.S. and abroad.

    His mission is to provide clients, listeners, and viewers alike with tangible takeaways on how to lead a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. Savio pens a weekly newsletter in which he delves into secrets to living smarter by feeding your “three brains” — head ?, heart ?, and gut ? — in the hope of connecting the dots to those sticky parts of our nature that matter to living our best life.