Growth Mindset: Are the Minds of Your Employees Prepared for Success?

January 21, 2019

At the end of January, many of us find ourselves tripping up on resolutions we set during the holiday season. We aim high with renewed resolve but soon falter. Sometimes failure to accomplish our goals can rob us of the motivation to change, learn, or grow.

Consequently, this is a perfect time to talk about “growth mindset.” Championed by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, and popularized in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, growth mindset is the belief that personal characteristics, talents, and traits can be developed over time.

A mindset is your attitude and beliefs about yourself and the world around you, which is often formed by the way you were raised or your early experiences in school. Mindset matters because it plays a critical role in how we deal with the many challenges we face in both business and life. Business leaders who foster the right type of mindset in their organizational culture can make the difference between a workforce that is resilient and courageous or one that is fragile and fearful.

In her book, Dweck talks about two opposing mindsets: fixed mindset and growth mindset.

Fixed Mindset

Individuals in a fixed mindset believe that personal traits such as intelligence, creativity, and empathy are set in stone and can never be changed. The fear of failure and judgement that accompanies a fixed mindset leads many people to avoid attempting to improve themselves altogether. Furthermore, when that improvement is attempted and failed, fixed mindset prevents us from pulling insight from that failure, getting back up, and trying a new way to conquer the challenge. The fear of failing and “not being the best” that is brought about by fixed mindset prevents people from taking the bold action necessary to reach one’s full potential.

Fixed mindset can also be projected onto other people in the form of believing that a given person cannot learn a particular skill or achieve a certain level of success. This narrow view does not leave room for change and is embodied in the phrase “you either have it or you don’t.”

This negative attitude toward ourselves and others causes many issues in our work and personal lives including reacting to failure with anger or disappointment instead of reflecting on how to learn and grow from the experience.

Growth Mindset

Growth mindset is quite the opposite, with an emphasis on the dynamic relationship of our personal traits and abilities. Common misconceptions in popular culture about intelligence and creativity have given us a false sense of the permanence of skills and traits. In fact, Alfred Binet, creator of the IQ test, has criticized the mischaracterization of his measurement tool. Dweck writes:

“Binet designed the test to identify children who were not profiting from the Paris Public Schools, so that new educational programs could be designed to get them back on track…without denying individual differences in children’s intellects, he believed that education and practice could bring about fundamental changes in intelligence.”

Building on an understanding of brain’s potential to rewire itself, modern science is demonstrating a much larger learned component to traits and abilities. Recent findings highlight a greater capacity for lifelong learning and brain development than we previously thought possible.

Having a growth mindset means seeing challenges, failures, and setbacks as opportunities to learn, grow, and gain insight into ourselves and life in general. This type of mindset means that we don’t count ourselves out when presented with the chance to learn a new skill, change a personal habit, or tackle a project in an uncharted area.

Of course, raw talent does exist. Dweck explains: “People have unique genetic endowments and people start with different temperaments and aptitudes, but it’s clear that experience, training, and personal effort take them the rest of the way.” After all, she says “It’s not always the people who start out the smartest who end up the smartest.”

Fixed Mindset at Work

Workplaces that operate in a fixed mindset often have plenty of blame, criticism, and excuses to go around. Those with a fragile ego avoid accepting blame, fearing the perception of inferiority in their own mind and in the minds of their colleagues. Furthermore, bosses who display an attitude of superiority over their team create an environment where management can be abusive or controlling, leading to a culture built on compliance where people work solely to please management. Dweck writes:

“When bosses become controlling and abusive, they put everyone into a fixed mindset. This means that instead of learning, growing, and moving the company forward, everyone starts worrying about being judged. It starts with the bosses’ worry about being judged, but it winds up being everybody’s fear about being judged. It’s hard for courage and innovation to survive a company-wide fixed mindset.”

When fixed mindset exists in the workplace, groupthink rules the day. Nobody speaks up or dissents for fear of judgement, getting their hand slapped, or being ostracized, demoted, or fired. This type of psychologically unsafe environment stifles creativity, promotes disengagement, and fosters frustration, fear of making mistakes, and unhealthy conflict. It works against critical business outcomes like innovation, collaboration, and healthy interpersonal relationships.

Shifting Your Business to a Growth Mindset

Even companies with good cultures often need to remind themselves of the importance of growing and developing their team. Integrating growth mindset principles into your organization is important for creating and maintaining a culture of innovation, teamwork, and continuous improvement. Leaders who take this approach to interacting with their team, promote loyalty, friendship, and enthusiasm. This type of support and favor strengthens their bonds, which translates into increased engagement, creativity, and ultimately, a healthier bottom line.

Dweck outlines the following ways to cultivate growth mindset:

· Promote the idea that skills as learnable

· Implement development programs to convey that the organization values learning and perseverance, not just ready-made genius or talent

· Give feedback in a way that promotes learning and future success

· Frame managers as resources for learning

Additionally, she outlines some great questions to explore your situation and take practical steps toward positive change.

What kind of workplace are you in?

Do you feel people are judging you or are they helping you develop? Maybe you could try making it a more growth-mindset place, starting with yourself.

Is it possible that you’re the problem?

Are there ways you could be less defensive about your mistakes? Could you profit more from the feedback you get? Are there ways you can create more learning experiences for yourself? How do you act toward others in your workplace? Are you a fixed-mindset boss, focused on your power more than on your employees’ well-being? Do you ever reaffirm your status by demeaning others?

Can you foster a better environment?

Consider ways to help your employees develop on the job: Apprenticeships? Workshops? Coaching sessions? Think about how you can start seeing and treating your employees as your collaborators, as a team. Make a list of strategies and try them out. Do this even if you already think of yourself as a growth-mindset boss. Well-placed support and growth-promoting feedback never hurt.

Do you have procedures to overcome groupthink?

Is your workplace set up to promote groupthink? If so, the whole decision-making process is in trouble. Create ways to foster alternative views and constructive criticism. Make the workplace a safe environment where ideas are freely shared and appreciated without ridicule or defensiveness. Remember, people can be independent thinkers and team players at the same time. Help them fill both roles.

If we want to foster skills like resiliency, creativity, and emotional intelligence, we have to first believe that change is possible in ourselves and others. Developing a growth mindset is the first step in creating that positive change. To learn more about how you can develop yourself, your team, and your organization to reach its potential, contact the Sprout Leadership team today.

© Sprout Leadership LLC 2019