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Dr. Carol Dweck first used the terms fixed mindset and growth mindset to describe people's fundamental beliefs about learning and intelligence. When leaders and employees believe they can learn from experiences and people interactions, they have a growth mindset. When they bring their perspectives and attitudes to a situation or interaction and close their mind to learning, it is a fixed mindset at work. Can a fixed mindset be changed? Yes, it can, and organizations are wise to develop leadership and a workforce with a growth mindset. A growth mindset is needed to excel in today's business environment. In the following sections, we consider the various aspects of fixed and growth mindsets and the importance of a growth mindset to good leadership.
A mindset is a person's mental attitude, inclinations, or way of thinking. It is everything you think, feel, and believe. Carol Dweck identified two kinds of mindset, fixed and growth, but people are usually not firmly one or the other. They have a mindset that blends features of both, or they shift from one to the other, depending on the circumstances. Ultimately, getting your leaders to adopt a growth mindset is good for themselves, employees, and the organization.
According to Dweck, people tend to believe they "are the way they are," making change difficult because of the acceptance of the status quo. People with a growth mindset recognize they can continuously learn and change, making personal growth controllable. Your leaders bring a mindset to the workplace, which influences how they approach employees and situations.
For example, unconscious bias is a fixed mindset that influences how a person listens to diverse employees or employees from different generations and how they recognize the value of feedback. A person with a growth mindset appreciates the unique perspectives of different generations or diverse people and is willing to listen, change the personal thought process, and adopt new ideas.
A growth mindset recognizes that the value of someone who has a different skill set is based on effort and not just achievement. A growth mindset allows someone to be open to relationships with people with different perspectives, life experiences, cultural backgrounds, and education. Advice and feedback in any situation, including during problem-solving, is considered an opportunity to learn. The growth mindset drives motivation and achievement and flows in the following way.
Ideally, all your leaders have a growth mindset to help themselves reach their full potential; as role models, they encourage employees to develop a growth mindset; and enhance business performance by increasing workforce resilience. People with a growth mindset also experience benefits in their personal lives.
Everyone can and should, especially your leaders, develop a growth mindset through honest self-assessment and intentional use of strategies known to work.
Recognizing that a person usually has some of the characteristics of fixed and growth mindsets, the focus is on addressing the fixed mindset.
Neuroscience research has discovered neuroplasticity or brain plasticity. This is the ability of the nervous system to change its response to stimuli by reorganizing its functions, structure, or connections. Stimuli refer to activities, like interactions with people or projects. The brain can reorganize its structures and the functioning of the neural networks. Neuroplasticity is the result of experience, learning, and the formation of memories. All brains, even mature ones, can experience plasticity from learning. This enables people to survive in the face of unpredictable circumstances.
Brain plasticity research has discovered that if you believe you can grow or change your brain, you will think and behave differently due to greater awareness. You can rewire your brain and gain more control over your life. Through practice, you strengthen existing connections and grow new connections in the brain.
Each person first identifies the fixed mindset characteristics possessed because this is the mindset holding people back from realizing their potential. For example, is the person critical rather than open to new ideas? Is feedback viewed negatively and rejected or viewed as an opportunity to learn? When there are setbacks, does the person give up or persist? When effort is required to overcome challenges, is the perspective one in which the effort is fruitless or a path to learning and skills mastery?
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Getting started with promoting the development of a growth mindset in organizational leaders is a process.
One of the many benefits of developing the growth mindset in organizational leaders is that it can encourage employees to also develop the growth mindset. A leader improves personal and team performance, which cascades to higher business performance. Other benefits include:
A company wanted to develop a growth mindset culture to increase agility in work to support a constantly evolving marketplace. In addition, annual or periodic performance reviews were proving ineffective, so the company wanted to rely more on people having conversations regularly. This required people to be more willing to ask and accept feedback as a learning process for changing behaviors.
First, the company brought in an organizational development consultant to get senior leader buy-in. This was followed by bringing all other managers onboard and developing their leadership coaching skills. The communication strategy became the leadership priority for the organization. Senior leaders, managers, and supervisors would engage employees in various ways to promote conversations and would talk about the growth mindset at every opportunity. Employee voice was strengthened as employees felt empowered to share their ideas, thoughts, strategies, solutions, examples, and experiences.
The initial effort to get people talking and thinking about a growth mindset is followed by a larger campaign that involved the talent management system. In this larger campaign, growth mindset principles were embedded in leadership development, developing coaching leadership, talent training and development, the hiring process, performance conversations, job descriptions, and career moves. Leaders change their language to include reaffirming statements, using words like "yet." For example, a leader tells an employee, "You haven't found a solution yet." They don't use words like "failure" and instead talk about learning to improve.
Over time, the employees began to collaborate more as they used growth mindset thinking. This was visible proof that people were thinking differently and incorporating different behaviors in the workplace.
Developing a growth mindset in leaders which extends to the workforce requires establishing the conditions for it. Shifting to a growth mindset is a process. It doesn't happen with one initiative or one meeting. It takes persistence, consistency in leadership messaging, and employee systems that offer the right opportunities for behavior changes like increased collaboration. Given the fact this is a transformation process, many companies begin by accessing management consulting services. The organization's culture doesn't develop a growth mindset. Developing the growth mindset changes the culture, and the culture then supports the growth mindset among leaders and employees moving forward.
With over 25 years in the industry, and now as IRI's Director of Business Development, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.