Fragile leaders break under pressure and crises. Resilient leaders bend and bounce back when stressed. But antifragile leaders grow stronger and more effective through adversity, pressure and uncertainty.
Antifragility is better than resilience
In his book Antifragility: Things that Gain from Disorder, Nassim Nicholas Taleb distinguished between fragility, resilience and antifragility. He defines antifragility as being the opposite of fragility and usually better than resilience. Yes: systems, strategies, economies, or individuals that are resilient can withstand much more stress than if they were fragile. But if something is antifragile, it gets even stronger and even thrives under stress, uncertainty and unpredictability.
We know that stretching out of our comfort zone to take on new or bigger leadership challenges, for example, can produce growth and learning like nothing else can. That’s an aspect of antifragility.
How can we not only withstand and bounce back under pressure and crises (resiliency) but grow even stronger and more effective with stress, change and uncertainty (antifragility)?
One opportunity area for many leaders to become more antifragile is confidence. A leader’s confidence is fragile when she bases it on her performance and reputation in an area of expertise – especially when that area of expertise is at risk of changing or becoming obsolete and devalued.
A leader’s confidence is resilient when it’s based on believing that since he’s learned to excel and build a strong reputation in one area, he can do it again in another area if and when needed.
But a leader’s confidence is antifragile when she admits that she ultimately does not have what it takes independently to always achieve expert performance or win others’ approval. Antifragile confidence ironically grows stronger in acknowledging weakness, mistakes and interdependence. The idea of failing fast captures some of this. When we admit our limits and imperfection and shift the primary basis of our confidence from ourselves to reliable others who lend their strength, skills and love, we tap a reservoir much deeper than we have internally and independently.
Wind and fire
Taleb describes antifragility as a flame that burns brighter with the wind instead of being extinguished (fragility) or merely staying lit like a candle (resilience.) May we burn brighter with the inevitable winds to come.
(Special thanks to Pastor Ryan Tinetti who inspired this post. In his August 2021 lecture series, he described an Antifragile Faith that grows stronger through weakness, failure and suffering – things that most of us tend to avoid like the Coronavirus.)
Joe Baker is a Partner with PeopleResults. As a leadership consultant and executive coach, he helps leaders and teams achieve extraordinary relationships and results that matter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr.