Leadership - The Importance of Mindset
Recently, as I was working on a new and exciting leadership curriculum our company will be launching in a few weeks, I was taken back to a TED Talk I had seen featuring Carol Dwek discussing the importance of the “growth mindset” with students and learning.
“The basic idea is that how students perceive how their brains work can impact how successful they are in the classroom. With a growth mindset, students understand their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence.” - C. Dweck
The idea is simple, we want our children to value the effort, respond to feedback, view their mistakes as a part of the steps in learning on the way to success and embrace the challenge, not fear it. We want them to have high aspirations for themselves and believe that their goals are achievable. This also holds true for businesses today with leaders and the shadow they cast to their employees.
Her research has direct implications for the work environment as well and how leaders foster a mindset among their teams which drives learning, growth and innovation or can drive the exact opposite. You may have heard the stories of companies and leaders that have the mindset of fail fast and fail forward. Unfortunately, to many of us, that was stuff of urban legend.
I can recall working with a manager (truly a manager - and not a leader) who would routinely say to her people, “be smart about how you approach the project, you wouldn’t want it to be a career ending outcome” or “choose your words carefully, you don’t want it to be a career ending conversation” when discussing ideas. Unfortunately, this type of management and culture is still prevalent even today.
This is the absolute opposite of what Dweck is talking about here in a ‘growth mindset” and demonstrates what a “fixed mindset” looks like. It can be a poison to a team and ultimately to the organization. As a result, within her team there was always less freedom, risk-taking, collaboration and acceptance of failure or deviation from her plan or idea. Her team was a rotating door. Often her direct reports actively looked to move roles or even leave the company within months of being on her team. If she were a teacher in school, her students would fear everything and have little or no self-confidence and would be looking to move to another class.
It’s when we take a moment to step back and look at the ‘growth mindset” vs. “fixed mindset” as it pertains to business, similar to how we apply it to education and students, where we can see its ease of fit and implications. It’s easy to see in the story illustrated above the impact to a team and business of the “fixed mindset”, but why a “growth mindset” in business.
First, it’s not directly business growth, the ‘growth mindset’ is really about adopting a set of defined beliefs and behaviors that foster growth in their current role, garner more leadership capabilities for an individual, and evolve their thinking and approach. Every employee in this type of organization must believe they have the ability to grow, learn and develop without the fear of catastrophic failure.
This mindset starts at the top and must be demonstrated through actions and not just words - nor can it be a fixed-level belief. The practice of “growth mindset” must be cultivated and flow through the entire organization to truly be effective and become culture. In fact, research has shown employees within a “growth mindset” culture often behave more transparently, don’t cut corners, work collaboratively, and are often motivated by and pursue more difficult and innovative projects. So, how do we get there?
Here are some simple tips for creating and fostering a “growth mindset” in your team:
1. First order of business is YOU. Before your team can have a “growth mindset”, you must first adapt it. Build a culture in which all employees are seen as possessing potential, are encouraged to develop, and are acknowledged and rewarded for improvement. Take an honest inventory of your leadership actions and culture to understand which mindset your team has today. Does your team fear failure, in part or whole, as a threat or as an opportunity? Why do they feel that way?
2. Build the foundation – your people. Look for individuals who seek knowledge, growth and offer solutions and ideas. Seek people who value learning, and show a capacity and passion for what they do, and are eager for continual knowledge. These types of people already have a natural “growth mindset” that can move any team forward towards success.
3. Take risks and accept failure (if you are willing to learn from it). It’s inevitable - failure is a part of growth. Position your team for success, support them and guide them, but allow your team to take on challenges and leadership roles that stretch them so they can learn by doing even if it means failing.
4. Show your team other worlds. Create opportunities for learning other roles through cross-channel or cross-role assignments. Doing so promotes understanding, empathy, and collaboration while encouraging a new way of approaching projects or tasks while allowing them to view their own role in the big picture of the organization. When applied and cultivated, the “growth mindset” is all about developing, advancing, expanding, and seeing the opportunity and potential in every moment, individual, failure, and success. A growth mindset will move your team and organization forward to the next level.
I was blessed in my career to see both sides. Why do you say blessed? The blessing was moving from a manager who had a "fixed mindset" to a leader who had a "growth mindset", and in doing so it changed the way I view building and managing teams to this day. I know this is concept us not new, and today it has become somewhat taboo conversation to discuss "fixed" vs. "growth", but the fact is, it has never been more relevant. “When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel. - Eloise Ristad
Please share your thoughts and experiences, I would love to hear them.