Leading with a Growth Mindset
Patrick Psaila
September 30, 2021

The term Growth Mindset emerged from the research conducted by Professor Carol Dweck from Stanford University in 2006.

Professor Dweck described growth mindset as a belief that one’s talents, abilities and behaviours can be developed through hard work, effective strategies and good mentoring from others. On the other hand, a fixed mindset regards these three human characteristics as fixed traits that one either has or does not have. Professor Dweck explains how these two mindsets should be regarded as a dynamic spectrum and not a polarised dichotomy. While she recognised the role that raw talent and predisposition play in our lives, her claim is that our beliefs and attitudes about our potential and limitation have a significant impact on the outcomes we achieve.

According to Dweck, most people fall somewhere along a growth/fixed mindset spectrum and that this position can change in various spheres of life. For example, they may have a fixed mindset in relation to their ability to learn a new language, believing that they are not good at languages but a growth mindset in how they regard themselves professionally believing that they can improve through further training.

My experience in working with numerous people in organisations has shown me that those people who are more inclined towards a growth mindset thrive better in the work context that is characterised by elevated levels of uncertainty, rapid change and a constant need to adapt quickly. This is because people with a growth mindset are less concerned about failure and playing safe and more focused on learning new things and trying out different strategies to help them face the challenges of the future. They regard themselves as a constant work in progress, take an attitude of life-long learning and regard failure and setbacks as an unavoidable aspect of growth. This mindset is needed now, more than ever, because of the accelerated rate of required change and general uncertainty brought about by realities such as the global pandemic, technological advancement, climate change and other socioeconomic factors.

People with growth mindsets tend to be faster to adapt and let go of old and redundant ways of thinking and behaving. They accept and embrace change as inevitable and look for ways of growing and learning while focusing on potential opportunities brought about by change. One such example are those business leaders who were quick to diversify their products or services and utilise technology when their organisations were negatively impacted by the pandemic. Naturally, not all businesses had the same capacity for such adaptation and for some it was much harder than others.

So, what does a growth mindset organisation look like and how can leaders adopt and promote this approach in the way they lead their businesses?

In Dweck’s research, people in growth mindset organisations said their companies valued creativity, innovation and supported reasonable risk even when it did not work out. They felt appreciated and valued by their managers and leaders. Real teamwork and collaboration were also considered an important aspect of a growth mindset work culture. The leaders and managers of such organisations also viewed their employees as having tremendous potential to grow and evolve and provided them with the necessary support and opportunities for personal and professional development.

The following are 10 practical tips that leaders can adopt to nurture a culture of growth mindset in their organisations.

  • Become aware of your own mindset and where you tend to fall along the growth vs fixed mindset spectrum. Try to be open to grow and develop more of a growth mindset so that you can set an example for your team. Considering the following three statements is a good start in assessing your mindset inclination;
  • I tend to believe that leaders are born not made and that effective leadership is an innate quality rather than a competence that can be learned and developed;
  • Most people are born with a set level of intelligence and potential and no amount of training, hard work and guidance can bring about much change in them;
  • Failure to achieve a goal is usually an indicator that either the goal was unrealistic or you do not have the capacity or disposition to achieve it through hard work, sustained effort and perseverance.

If you agreed with any of the three statements it may mean that your mindset may be somewhat “fixed”.

  1. Embrace change and welcome it as an opportunity for learning and growth.
  2. Challenge the way you do things and consider what areas of your leadership practice can be intentionally disrupted or prepared for radical change.
  3. Encourage your team members to take reasonable risks and recognise failure as an important learning tool rather than something to be punished.
  4. Place a high value and focus on process, effort, initiative and innovation rather than solely on results. This gives your people the message that it is good to invest time and energy in activity that may not necessarily produce the most commercially lucrative short-term results but create opportunities for future business growth.
  5. Adopt a work-in-progress mentality and a culture of “becoming”. Success is very often the result of hard work, persistence, commitment and resolve. It often includes tough challenges, setbacks and disappointments. Developing the grit and resilience to bounce back and make the necessary changes in your approach and strategy is a critical growth mindset quality.
  6. Encourage and be open to feedback to demonstrate that you too, as a leader, are committed to your own ongoing growth and development.
  7. Create a feedback culture where people can expect to receive consistent constructive feedback about their performance and behaviour at work.
  8. Make coaching and mentoring an intrinsic part of every employee’s role especially those that include a leadership dimension.
  9. Promote psychological safety by fostering a no-blame culture and a human environment where people feel respected, appreciated and valued. This will help people to want to stretch beyond their comfort zones and take new initiatives.

As we navigate through a volatile and uncertain business environment, adaptability to rapid change has become a critical competency for leaders and organisations to survive and thrive. Committing to adopting a growth mindset can help us make the necessary paradigm shift towards an attitude of constant learning, growth and innovation. It is a shift towards thinking in terms of “the what’s possible” rather than the impossible. The science is clear. We know that mindsets matter in expanding the limits of what can be achieved and reaching beyond the perceived boundaries of our abilities.

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