Leading with a Growth Mindset: breaking through the myths so you can lead like the best
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. “
-John Quincy Adams
The growth mindset is a concept that’s been used, abused, tossed, turned, thrown around and brought up in business literature continuously for the past 30 years.
Yet it’s still often misunderstood and incorrectly applied.
Taking the time to read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset is not possible for everyone, especially if you are busy leading an organisation with all the pressures that brings. Although, we do highly recommend it.
Through our work at Growth Tribe, we’ve observed that many large companies pride themselves on their growth mindset culture. But leaders, through no fault of their own, often misunderstand what it really means, or inadvertently display fixed mindset attitudes in their behaviours and practices.
It’s no wonder, with all the nuances that having a Growth Mindset actually means and the misinformation and myths that are out there.
“How much do you as a leader enable your teams to embrace a growth mindset in their daily business? ”
As a leader, do you truly live and breathe the growth mindset? Or are you one of the vast majority who believe they are, but are perhaps missing the mark?
Let’s take a look at some common myths;
- I’m demonstrating a growth mindset if I have a positive outlook.
- My team should be rewarded for all the effort they make because a growth mindset is all about trying your best.
- I reward the best team players who take on more and more work because those who don’t have a fixed mindset.
- If I talk about the growth mindset with my team enough times then good things are bound to follow.
- With a growth mindset, anything is possible.
How many of these sound familiar to you? It’s easy to fall into at least demonstrating one of these as a leader.
Here at Growth Tribe, we are on a mission to change this and make you a better leader so you can lead like the very best.
The Key Characteristics of a Growth Mindset
Let’s dive into what a growth mindset really is.
The behaviour was first described by Stanford US psychology professor Carol Dweck in the 1970s. She was obsessed with understanding how people react to and cope with failures.
To study this preoccupation, Dweck decided to watch how young students tackle hard problems. She gave each child a set of increasingly difficult puzzles to solve.
Dweck observed something she didn’t expect. While many of the children appeared to struggle, others appeared to be really enjoying the challenge. Dweck was puzzled with this response. She wondered what was going on with them?
Dweck found that it was because these children didn't see their mistakes as failures, instead they saw it as a natural part of learning.
As a result, Dweck coined the terms growth mindset and fixed mindset to describe people’s beliefs about learning and intelligence - both their own and that of others.
“People with a fixed mindset are more likely to stick to activities that utilise skills they’ve already mastered, rather than risk embarrassment by failing at something new”
- Carol Dweck
Leaders with a growth mindset take pleasure in any opportunity to learn new things. They are willing to unlearn their strongly held beliefs and strategies that have worked in the past. They are resilient to failure. In fact they embrace failure because they see it as a natural part of learning.
As a result, it changes the way that great leaders lead.
How to Show You Can Lead with a Growth Mindset
“We are moving from a group of people who know it all to group of people who want to learn it all”
- Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft
So how do you avoid being a leader who pays lip service to the growth mindset while inadvertently having a fixed mindset?
You can make a start by role modelling. Encourage ‘what if’ expansive and experimental thinking within your team.
You need to adopt a philosophy of future potential to evaluate your team members' performance instead of only looking back at their past performance.
Having said this, you should review learnings by having regular coaching conversations with your team to evaluate the lessons from previous failures and successes and help guide them to come up with their own ways to overcome any current obstacles.
The language you use is key. Coaching not directing is critical to encouraging a growth mindset in your team.Try asking “what are you going to try next?” and “what ideas do you have for how we could approach this differently?”
Why not set up a team ‘failure board’ to track failed experiments and what they learned. You could even bring in a spirit of competition by having a ‘failure of the month’.
By encouraging your team to come up with the ideas themselves in a place of psychological safety, you build an environment of trust and risk taking.
The Difference a Growth Mindset You Will Make to Your Business
“I haven’t failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that haven’t worked”
- Thomas Edison
By leading with a growth mindset, you will build a team who are better able to have healthy disagreements, accept feedback from each other, and be more willing to set themselves more challenging goals.
And be more likely to experiment.
Companies with experimenter teams throughout have a stronger stock performance over time when compared with the S&P 500 as a whole.
This principle doesn’t just apply to tech companies. The experimenters index has also positively impacted the performance of non-tech companies such as Walmart, BBC, Sky UK, Fed Ex, Kohls and Petco.
The costs from failed experiments are far outweighed by the upside a win can bring through compound returns over time.
It is your responsibility to manage continuous change and experimentation in your business. As an essential part of a growth mindset approach, your business will have more than a fighting chance against the competition- and likely pull well ahead.
Your Growth Mindset Leadership Self-Assessment
We’ve laid out the common myths, busted these myths and have given you reasons why you will make a difference in your company’s performance if you lead with a growth mindset.
Now challenge your own mindset by checking off how many of these behaviours you display regularly.
- I don’t let my team give up too easily when they are faced with an obstacle. We work things out together.
- I encourage my team to take on tough challenges.
- I reward effort related to learning that results in progress. I believe that seeking help from others is important.
- Mistakes happen, so when things go wrong I encourage my team to reflect on what they learned and what they will do differently.
- I am good at giving constructive feedback to my team and I am open to my team member’s feedback on my leadership. I work on adjusting my behaviour as a result.
- I don’t want to take any chances that good things will just happen organically. I want my team to take appropriate risks frequently. And to keep experimenting.
- I avoid rewarding any effort regardless of how a team member approached the task. I only reward well planned and well executed tasks, appreciating that things can go wrong.
- I work hard to build an environment of psychological safety within my team.
- I don’t believe that members of my team with high potential can be thrown in at the deep end and automatically know what to do without a combination of training and support.
- I persist in growing my leadership skills because we are all a work in progress.
We have given you a flavour of what we cover (with clear more actionable steps!) in our Rethink Business Leadership Course. You can find more details by clicking below.
We look forward to welcoming you onto the next step of your life-long learning and growth as a leader!