There are two types of attitudes: fixed and growth mindsets, as described by Dr. Carol Dweck’s, Mindset, The Psychology of Success. Fixed mindset believes a person’s level of talent or intelligence is set in stone – that we are born with a certain set of characteristics – that we either “have it” or we don’t. People with a fixed mindset measure success by inherent intelligence. They often avoid risks and limit their opportunity to potentially “fail” at something because of what that would say about the individual. For example, “I failed, so I am a failure.” They are in constant judgement of themselves and others.
Growth mindset believes that anything can be learned, developed, practiced, and improved. Rather than fear risk, those with a growth mindset are challenged about things they don’t know and excited by learning new skills and figuring things out. The basic premise of a growth mindset is that results are derived from effort put forth, rather than an innate set of skills. This is an empowering approach that allows for possibility and having control over outcomes. Individuals with a growth mindset also continuously monitor their results, but rather than taking on a negative belief about themselves, they consider more positive questions, such as:
What can I learn from this?
How can I improve?
How can I help my team grow from this experience?
Limitations of Fixed Mindset Leaders: those with a fixed mindset are convinced that their way is the best, because they are the smartest in the room. They make sure of this by disassociating with anyone offering ideas that differ from their own, firing or discrediting them. They make excuses or blame others to avoid circumstances reflecting badly on themselves. This often leads to poor outcomes for the organizations they lead, because they are unable to adapt to avoid short-sited catastrophe. Lee Iacocca of Chrysler, as well as the co-leaders of Enron, Kenneth Lay and Jeffery Skilling, are examples Dr. Dweck gives of fixed mindset leadership. Most of us know how things turned out for Enron and for Lee Iacocca at Chrysler. Let’s take a look at some ways to enhance your business by leading with a growth mindset.
10 Practices to Enhance a Growth Mindset
- Acknowledge and embrace imperfections. Denying your weaknesses means you’ll never overcome them. Instead of always trying to “look good”, let yourself goof up now and then. It will make it easier to take risks in the future.
- View challenges as opportunities. Those with a growth mindset usually enjoy opportunities for self-improvement.
- Stop seeking approval. When you prioritize approval over learning, you sacrifice your own potential for growth. It’s important to take risks in the company of others and to learn from other people’s mistakes. I don’t advocate comparing yourself to others, but it is important to realize that humans share similar weaknesses and making mistakes helps us all grow.
- Reward actions and effort, not traits. Acknowledge students or team members for their hard work rather than praising them for just being smart. When a good grade is achieved, say “your extra studying paid off” rather than “you are so smart.” What happens if the student makes a poor grade next time? It’s better to teach them to put forth more effort going forward than to internalize a negative personal message.
- Replace the word “failing” with the word “learning.” When you make a mistake or fall short of a goal, you haven’t failed; you’ve learned. And don’t assume that “room for improvement” means failure.
- Place effort before talent and cultivate grit. Hard work should always be rewarded before inherent skill. Keep in mind that workers with that extra bit of determination will be more likely to seek approval from themselves rather than others.
- Use the word “yet.” Dweck says “not yet” has become one of her favorite phrases. When you are struggling with a task, remind yourself that you just haven’t mastered it yet.
- Make a new goal for every goal accomplished. You’ll never be finished learning. Just because your project is complete, doesn’t mean you should stop being interested in the issue. Growth-minded people know how to constantly create new goals to keep themselves inspired.
- Think realistically about time and effort. It takes time to learn. Don’t expect to master every topic in one sitting and allow yourself time to explore new resources.
- Take ownership over your attitude. Once you develop a growth mindset, own it. Acknowledge yourself for your ability to learn new skills and to adopt new ways of thinking. Be mindful as well, when a fixed mindset thought comes up and resist the urge to blame others. You can create your own reality with your thoughts, words, and actions.
Practicing a growth mindset makes a constructive impact on students, employees, and the entire organization. Which of these suggestions makes the most sense to begin with for your business and life?
Kim Ellet is a certified professional coach and owner of The Growth Coach of Metro Atlanta. She finds joy in helping successful leaders committed to continuous improvement, be more of who they are, dream bigger dreams, and accomplish more than they realized was possible.