The management consulting firm McKinsey & Company recently tweeted out an infographic challenging leaders to consider the resilience of their mindset –– is it setting you up for success? Resilience is often seen as being strong or tough, quickly bouncing back from difficult situations with ease, but a truly resilient mindset goes deeper than this. Resilience is the ability to have an open mindset when placed in new and unfamiliar situations, acknowledging that you are only human but moving forward with awareness and an ability to adapt to change.

One of the best attributes a leader can have is the ability to step back and observe their own biases, identifying where they may be adopting patterns of thought that are hindering rather than geared toward resilience. Often upon reflection it is clear that these patterns have come out of a place of fear, and a fearful mindset is one that is reactionary and impulsive, rather than thoughtful and deliberate. The infographic lays out comparisons of resilient and fear-based ways of approaching challenges, and below I explore these concepts in further depth.

Protection vs. Opportunity

“I need to stop something bad from happening.” vs. “I could make something great happen.”

A mindset based on protection is one that takes risk aversion to the extreme. You are constantly looking for potential problems so you can prevent them from happening, but in doing so you can become oblivious to the opportunities that these challenges may present. While it may seem like viewing the hurdles that lay in front of you as problems or challenges to be vaulted will make you more resilient, a truly resilient mindset is one that sees those hurdles as opportunities to grow and learn. By coming from the perspective of identifying things as problems that you must protect yourself from, you’re already approaching things from a negative mindset and potentially allowing your mind to make things seem harder than they truly are.

Expert vs. Curious

“I should know this already and have the answers.” vs. “I’ll ask a lot of questions to learn more.”

People often have the misconception that as a leader it is their job to have all of the answers. Because of this, they think that making bold assertions––whether they know them to be correct or not––will build people’s confidence in their competence, but in reality it has the opposite effect. By holding yourself to the standard of being the person who should know everything you not only erode trust by displaying a lack of self-awareness, but also lose out on opportunities to gain new insights by staying open and curious. Instead, a resilient leader is one who asks powerful and inspiring questions, conveys that they don’t have the answers, and solicits others’ help to find them. This enables them to not only develop trust with those who follow them, but also gain new insights and continue to grow in their role.

Reactive vs. Creative

“What’s the problem and the solution?” vs. “What are the possibilities and bigger purpose?”

If you’ve read any leadership texts within the last couple decades, you have most certainly heard leaders must learn to be proactive rather than reactive. Obviously a good leader needs to have the ability to come up with solutions to the challenges faced by their organization, but by getting bogged down with a problem-solving mentality you miss the opportunity to become a great leader by seeing the bigger picture. A resilient mindset means having foresight, being able to zoom out of the day-to-day operations and cause/effect thinking and understand the greater vision of the company, setting goals that will propel that mission forward. A resilient leader makes creative thinking a priority, seeing their leadership role as less about problem-solving and more about finding possibilities.

Victim vs. Agent

“My growth is limited by factors beyond my control.” vs. “I back myself to learn and get things done.”

This is perhaps one of the ways your mindset can most hinder you, both in work and life. If you have already limited yourself in your head by the external factors that exist outside of what you can control, there is no question that they will prevent your growth and success. Where a passive victim believes that their fate is always in somebody else’s hands, an active agent does just that: takes action. They take responsibility for wherever they stand in life, and lead people forward with confidence and hope for the future. Framing yourself as an agent rather than a victim is an essential aspect of resilient leadership, allowing you to avoid self-pity and blaming and instead constructively utilize the resources that are available toward making visions come to life.

Scarcity vs. Abundance

“I can’t perform with such limited resources.” vs. “I have plenty and will share with others.”

A leader who has a resilient mindset views the world in terms of abundance. They know that there is enough to go around for everyone, and move forward in life with fulfillment and confidence both in what they have and what they’re capable of having. They believe in the power to create what they want, and see everything as an opportunity instead of a challenge or defeat. Conversely, someone lacking a resilient mindset will see the world in terms of what it is lacking. Leaders with this mindset lead with fear or a view that nothing is ever enough and never will be enough. They often shy away from anything that doesn’t feel realistic or doable. An abundance mindset leader approaches difficulty by learning what skills they need to develop to make their desires a reality and then moving forward to learn those skills.

Certainty vs. Exploration

“I have a plan and will not be diverted.” vs. “My plan is good but I’m flexible and curious.”

Another common misconception when it comes to a resilient mindset is that resiliency means you stick to your guns no matter what. A resilient mindset is one that focuses on the journey rather than the destination, and therefore remains open to exploring different paths if they prove to be what is best for the team. Certainty in and of itself isn’t a bad thing––it can mean confidence in yourself and your ideas. However, fear of being wrong or making a mistake can turn this certainty into stubbornness and inflexibility, leading to a lack of curiosity and openness to different options. As put by a Japanese proverb: “​​the bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists.”

Fixed vs. Growth

“I’m not great at this, I’ll avoid the challenge.” vs. “I learn from mistakes to gain new skills.”

Finally, a resilient mindset is one that is able to adapt and change, learning from mistakes and growing from them. It is only through new experiences that we are truly able to grow; without challenging ourselves to try new things we do not gain any opportunities to learn new skills and remain stagnant. With a resilient mindset, you are constantly pushing yourself to new heights because that is the only way you can continue to better yourself. Stagnation is the enemy of success, and a leader that isn’t challenging themselves can hardly expect their employees to do the same. A resilient mindset is crucial to becoming a great leader, and the first step towards doing so is simply looking at how you approach the obstacles that appear before you.

Connect with Vik Bansal on his website and LinkedIn.