Cultivating a Growth Mindset
Not that long ago, I was working with a leader who was in a new role, reporting directly to the CEO. It was a demanding role and the leader quickly felt like he lost control of his calendar. The stress led to sleep disruptions and a decrease in overall wellbeing. He was overwhelmed. Through coaching, he took a step back to determine what he could control and focused on that. He also worked on being optimistic and seeing the possibilities in his new role, not just the demands. Shifting to a growth mindset wasn’t easy, but it made all the difference in how he felt.
What exactly is a growth mindset? A growth mindset is characterized by a belief that one's abilities and skills can be developed through dedication and hard work. It is a contrast to a fixed mindset that says one’s abilities are set and cannot change. A growth mindset seeks out new opportunities and believes in the potential of learning. A growth mindset is a wonderfully beneficial attribute for organizations, leaders and individuals at all levels – and, with intention, a growth mindset can be cultivated.
In organizations, prioritizing a growth mindset can take several paths. Promoting a learning culture can create psychological safety and a rich environment to move toward a growth mindset. A learning culture looks like rewarding progress, not just achievement, and prioritizing learning from failures. Leaders play an important role in reinforcing this culture, offering feedback on progress, praising effort and encouraging learning and improvement. They need to demonstrate that they are open to new ideas from the team, as well as leading by example to prioritize their own learning and development.
A growth mindset encourages team members to experiment, take risks, and try new things. In this environment, team members focus on learning and growth, rather than just achieving fixed goals. This can lead to higher performance and productivity, as team members are more motivated and engaged in their work. This makes space for creativity and innovation, which reinforce the range of possibilities an organization or team has ahead of them, leading to greater optimism.
Collaboration and teamwork are also important aspects of a learning culture and growth mindset because employees feel supported to share ideas and take risks. Teams work together to solve problems when in a growth mindset because they believe a range of potential solutions exist. This can lead to stronger relationships and a more positive team culture, where everyone feels valued and respected. This environment creates opportunities for everyone to feel comfortable contributing and, like a learning culture, contributes to employees’ sense of psychological safety. Leaders can encourage this dynamic by allocating time in team meetings for group problem solving, emphasizing the expertise and skills of the team, and celebrating examples of the group overcoming challenges in creative ways.
How teams bounce back from challenges offer more evidence of the strength of their growth mindset. Resilience is a common trait in organizations with a growth mindset culture. A growth mindset helps teams to view setbacks and failures as opportunities for learning and growth, rather than as insurmountable obstacles. This can lead to more resilient team dynamics, where everyone is better equipped to handle challenges and setbacks.
Moving from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset can be challenging, but there are techniques that we can use to shift our thinking:
Practice self-reflection: Leaders can reflect on their own mindset and beliefs, and identify areas where they may be holding themselves back. This can involve questioning assumptions, challenging limiting beliefs, and managing their inner critic. Notice also what is celebrated in your organization. Are you recognizing progress in addition to achievement?
Focus on learning and growth: Leaders can shift their focus from achieving fixed goals to the process of learning and growth. They can encourage their team to take risks, learn from failures, and embrace new challenges. They can also be transparent about their own learning plan, demonstrating their own passion for learning and developing new skills and sharing opportunities for growth and development.
Seek feedback: Leaders can seek out feedback from their team and others to help them identify areas where they can improve and grow. They can also use feedback to help them develop a more optimistic and open mindset, see new opportunities, and to build stronger relationships with their team.
If you are feeling stuck or uncertain about how to move toward a growth mindset, that might be a sign of a fixed mindset or it could be a signal to seek support. Coaching is one way to make a leap from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset - both being a coach and being coached can make a difference! Making an intentional effort to be more curious is another way to move toward a growth mindset. This can look like asking more and better questions before reaching a decision or in meetings. If you happen to be motivated by negative consequences, reflect on the costs of staying pessimistic and limiting the possibilities ahead of you. Individually and together, these techniques can help you move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset that offers more possibility, more hope, and more abundance.
Resources to learn more:
The Coaching Habit, Michael Bungay Stanier
The Question is the Answer, Hal Gregersen
Learned Optimism, Martin Seligman
This article was also published on Medium.