Well, I certainly did, in sports, basketball specifically. And this inhibited my desire, aspiration, and consequently my effort in trying to be as good if not better. I assumed that hand-eye coordination and ambidexterity were gifts I didn’t have and so relegated myself to a purely defensive role, not giving myself opportunities to attack the ball in the offensive. Now, as a professional in the Learning & Development space, the concept of #growthmindset pioneered by the amazing Dr. Carol Dweck has helped me connect the dots. Knowing what I know now, I realize that it was my “Fixed mindset’ at work. It held me back from making any attempts at trying to learn, put the effort to be a more complete player, and stay on the job of giving myself a fighting chance. As fate would have it, I injured both my knees in a tournament, and that put paid to my ambition as a basketball player. Recently, I was preparing for a leadership program for managers, and the relevance of the growth mindset and how these managers should approach their own growth and change became clear. I began to peel the layers and while Dr. Dweck’s research is largely centered around children the foundational principles can be applicable to adults as well. Let me start with a simplified explanation of what Fixed and Growth mindset mean;
- Success is a function of Innate Intelligence & Ability which are fixed
- Effort in an area outside of one’s abilities will yield limited results.
- Avoid potential failure situations as failure = unintelligent or incapable.
- Run from difficulty, compare with lower benchmarks
- FOCUS IS ON OUTCOMES “If I am innately good, it shouldn’t require effort, and if I am not good, why should I set myself up to fail by even trying?”
- Success is a function of effort, learning & persistence where our abilities can grow.
- See a challenging situation as an opportunity for that effort.
- Failure is an opportunity to learn and get it right.
- Accept difficulty as a part of the process
- FOCUS IS ON PROCESS “If learning is the only way I will succeed, I better find as many opportunities as I can”
There are several videos and good reading available ( Links at the end of this article) to explore this concept further. To me, this has great relevance to how one should approach leadership and how at that moment of choice, choosing to operate from a growth mindset can fundamentally alter the trajectory of one’s leadership growth and success. Here are a few scenarios a leader irrespective of position, role or function will encounter and what a growth mindset approach might look like:
Assigning projects & tasks:
A fixed mindset leader would assign a new project, based on who she thinks possesses the knowledge or experience for that task. With this approach, she would be discouraged or feel incapacitated if the project involved totally new skills or areas of work where existing knowledge doesn’t exist. A growth mindset leader would assign the new project based on who has the learning agility, shown to be a hard worker, and is okay with dealing with ambiguity even if they don’t have the seniority or experience. She would be excited at the possibility of her and her team growing from that experience.
A fixed mindset would mean she would rather pass up the opportunity than experience failure which might make her feel ‘incapable’. She would rather maintain the status quo than come across as incompetent or a failure. A Growth mindset would mean she would recognize that both she and the team would benefit from experience even if they fail or deliver sub-optimally as long as they have worked hard on it. She would encourage her team to keep trying and focus on the process as this will be useful for the team later.
Unless you’ve been in hibernation or in a cryo-chamber for the last 9 months, everybody recognizes that not just change but ‘rapid’ change is inevitable in today’s new normal. But our orientation and attitude towards that change can vastly impact how we emerge out of it on the other side. A fixed mindset leader who feels that their ‘present knowledge and experience’ has not prepared them for the new world, would look to wait and watch, react, do what others are doing or what they have been told to do, and be happy to hide behind a ‘collective failure’. A growth mindset leader, in her mind they could be selfishly thinking, “ Hey! When else am I going to get an opportunity to try so many things, when everyone is okay if a few ideas don’t work out?” or “ Why not I use this opportunity to get my team to adopt that collaboration tool, I’ve always wanted them to use?” or something similar.
A fixed mindset leader’s orientation towards effort sits opposite to their orientation towards their belief that intelligence and capability are innate and fixed. They may think that the effort in learning what you are not good at is a waste of energy as you are possibly never going to be really good at it. Their love for always having a successful outcome limits their value for learning and this impacts the opportunities they create for learning for their team. A Growth mindset leader is excited by learning opportunities because they equate learning to growing. Their need to learn from every opportunity transfers to their team and pushes even the lazy ones to make the effort because it matters to their boss. She sees a direct link between the team’s capability to take on new challenges with how much they learn every day.
A growth mindset leader would not want to waste a crisis. She would see this as an opportunity to get the team more current with technology, focus on creating learning opportunities, try new work practices, adopt best practices.
Leaders with a fixed mindset prefer to stick to tasks that they know so they can avoid the potential to make a mistake. This also means that they aren’t often eager to open themselves up to other people’s opinions about their work because when they are criticized, they view it as a reflection of their character, and are likely to become defensive as their ego/identity is attached to the perception of their capabilities and intelligence. The marks and results have told them how good they are and they don’t anyone to challenge that. Leaders with a growth mindset welcome feedback because they see it as an opportunity to learn and improve themselves. In fact, they will seek out feedback, even from their own team in order to identify any room for improvement, the gap in knowledge, or absence of skill because people with a growth mindset don’t see these things as being set in stone, they see them as being workable.
Process Vs Outcome & impact on team management.
Every organization is obsessed with outcomes. Quarterly results, monthly numbers, NPS Scores, CSat scores, and the poor mid-manager bears the brunt of it. This can lead managers to pass on that pressure to their teams. But if a manager succumbs to a fixed mindset approach, she will only focus on people and processes that deliver outcomes in the short term, without having a long term view on building capability & perseverance of the team to keep trying new things. Under pressure, tolerance to those who might be on the right track but have not delivered in the required time frame will become lesser and lesser. She will end up with a team of yes-men(or women) and also a lot of attrition. Can you imagine the atmosphere in such a team? A Growth mindset leader, like a good sports coach, will focus on building the right process and attitude and know that the outcome will come in time. They will cover for this transition period by doing some things themselves and shielding the team from the pressures of results. That ‘Perseverance’ is will help them become sought after leaders of the future. The good thing about any mentality is that it isn’t a fixed trait. You can choose to adopt a growth mindset at any time, STARTING NOW. After reading these typical leadership scenarios that you encounter every day and examples of a fixed vs. a growth mindset approach, you can likely see the benefit of choosing the latter.
If this resonates with you, then you know what it will take to start acting on it…. YES A GROWTH MINDSET