By Matthew Syed and Helen Deavin, MD of Matthew Syed Consulting.
Resilience is a topic that is getting a lot of airtime, as lockdown continues and challenges persist in the face of coronavirus. Many clients are also increasingly keen to explore how a growth mindset can help during this uncertain time, as they seek to support colleagues and employees while maintaining business continuity.
Resilience is often defined as the ability to recover from difficulties, but it can also be the capacity to cope with and adapt to challenging circumstances. It is a key attribute of a growth mindset and, crucially, isn’t simply a personality trait that you either have or you don’t; resilience is something you can develop or strengthen with practice and intent.
How can leaders and individuals help to foster a mindset and culture that will not only strengthen resilience during challenging times but also favour long-term personal and organisational success?
Re-frame failure as a learning opportunity
The way we view failure can fundamentally affect our resilience. When something goes wrong, do we see it as an opportunity to learn or as an excuse to give up? When we re-frame failure as a learning opportunity, our motivation and self-belief are much less threatened.
In the current environment, if we can lessen our fear of failure, we will feel more motivated to try something new or to do things differently and will also feel more optimistic about our ability to tackle the challenges we face and take something positive from them.
View success as a journey
Remember that success is a journey; it happens through high quality practice and persistence and is not simply the result of natural talent. If we acknowledge that success doesn’t happen instantly, we will be less disheartened with initial setbacks – thus improving our resilience.
Make plans and act on them – as well as giving a sense of control, it also improves chances of achieving a goal. And take care to manage expectations (whether our own or those of others) to avoid feelings of frustration due to the time it may take to achieve a goal or milestone.
Feedback is a gift
How we choose to respond to feedback can affect our resilience. Feedback is simply information, but our interpretation of it – depending on our mindset – makes it feel good or bad. In a growth mindset, we view ‘critical’ feedback as something valuable that can help us develop. In a fixed mindset, we see it as a judgement on our competence or self-worth. It’s not always easy to embrace feedback with a growth mindset approach – we want to learn but we also want to be liked or valued for who we are.
Consider ‘negative’ feedback as ‘constructive’ and an opportunity to learn and improve, rather than an indication of failure. Separate the points for development from any feeling of personal attack; it is not a judgement of us as a person.
Consider also using the Feed Forward approach: identifying something we want to improve and proactively seeking input will help maintain the focus on feedback as being developmental rather than judgemental.
Humility above all
Humility is another key trait that aids resilience as it means we accept when we need help and will seek it. When we are humble, we recognise our limitations, whatever our qualifications or experience, and are open to ideas and feedback from others. If we feel we have to provide all the answers or cover up any shortcomings in order to protect our reputation or status, we lose the opportunity for better communication, collaboration, innovation and learning.
Being aware of gaps in our knowledge and open to the ideas and viewpoints of others will help build trust and collaboration as well as resilience. The current situation is an ideal time to be open to input from others; nobody has all the answers right now as we are all dealing with situations, and a level of change, we have probably never encountered before. Nor is having all the answers the role of leaders or managers, though we will probably need to make the final decisions. Invite ideas and feedback from others – demonstrating humility will allow others to do the same by fostering psychological safety.
Create psychological safety
Research shows that resilient teams are more successful. But having a team of resilient people is not the same as a resilient team. Resilient teams are built on trust and psychological safety; enabling team members to share ideas and information and be open about mistakes or concerns or needing help, without fear of criticism or recrimination. Some research suggests that as little as 1% of people feel extremely confident voicing concerns at crucial moments1, when stakes are high. This can lead to poor decisions, maintaining the status quo, a lack of learning and inferior team performance.
Suggestions for fostering team resilience and psychological safety include:
- Avoid blame and focus on learnings when something goes wrong
- Model the behaviours you want other people to display, e.g. being open about mistakes or not having all the answers.
- Actively encourage new ideas and approaches – from every team member
- Communicate clear purpose and priorities
- Regularly provide and ask for feedback, praising effort not outcome
Psychological safety takes work, but can help you create an environment where people and diverse ideas thrive.
There is an intrinsic link between many traits of growth mindset and resilience. Building one’s own growth mindset, and in particular adopting the beliefs and behaviours we have explored above, will aid personal resilience. But this can be hampered if growth mindset, trust and psychological safety is lacking at a team level. By building resilient teams and a growth mindset culture across an organization, leaders can expect to optimise both personal and business benefits and performance.
1 – Patterson, K., Grenny, J., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2012). Crucial conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high (second edition). McGraw-Hill Education.
Find out more about building a growth mindset culture and learning organisation at www.matthewsyed.co.uk