Effective Leadership and Growth Mindset

“Growth is the only evidence of life.” – John Henry Newman

Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced. … Most of us are about as eager to change as we were to be born and go through our changes in a similar state of shock.”  – James Baldwin

What if, as a leader and as a person, you were to continue to grow deeper and stronger in all areas of your life and leading for as long as you live?  This growth would be in the areas of the intellect, the emotions, the spiritual life, your skills and capacities.  Think of the gifts you would bring to the world, the impact you would have on the lives of others.  Think of the wonder and fulfillment you would experience personally.  Do you know anyone who has lived a life like that?

How does one continue to push the limits and challenge themselves to accomplish more throughout the life span? A critical habit of mind for continued growth in all areas of life is what is often called a “growth mindset.”  A growth mindset is more than an affinity for learning and a willingness to hit the books.  While those qualities are important, a true growth mindset is more of a paradigm that keeps us hungry to grow, change, and extend our capacities across our living and throughout our life span. This mindset informs our responses to opportunities, challenges, and even disasters, driving us to leverage these for growth and impact.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” writes Carol Dweck, whose work in the field of growth mindset development is the bringing this concept to the fore in growth, self-help, and leadership literature.

Using this description, a growth mindset is the commitment to growth through learning and change, the curiosity to actively purse learning and change, and the resilience to pursue such learning and change even in the midst of challenges and difficulties.  Just as there can be little or know growth without self-awareness, there can be little or no growth without a growth mindset.

Opposite of the growth mindset is what is called a fixed mindset.  A fixed mindset assumes that personality, intelligence, creative ability and temperament are static, and that a person has is what a person gets in life.  With this in mind, “success” is seen as the affirmation of these inherent factors, and is about proving you’re smart or talented, or in other ways validating the fixed or static self. If one’s capacities are fixed, there is no need to pursue growth for not only is it seemingly pointless, it is an admission of weakness.  It is important to avoid the risk of growth, critical review of one’s work, and risk of failure in order to maintain one’s sense of competence.

Reluctance to face challenge and make effort can negatively impact one’s professional and personal life and can lead to static, non-growing relationships.  It may also lead to blaming others or in other ways externalizing setbacks, shortcomings or failures. The goal in life and in leadership is the confirmation of intelligence, personality, character, and ability.  The questions in life become, “Will I succeed or fail?  Look dumb or smart?  Will I be accepted or rejected?”  One writer described the fixed mindset as “…always trying to convince yourself that you have a royal flush when you’re secretly worried it’s a pair of tens.”

To achieve one’s potential as a person, an influencer, and a professional, one must move from fixed or mixed mindset into a true growth mindset.  Again to quote Carol Dweck:  “It’s hard work, but individuals and organizations can gain a lot by deepening their understanding of growth-mindset concepts and the processes for putting them into practice. It gives them a richer sense of who they are, what they stand for, and how they want to move forward.”

A growth mindset thrives on personal growth, challenge, and even difficulty, believing that one’s basic qualities and abilities can be cultivated through both effort and challenges.  Rather, this mindset embraces change and challenge, and does not see difficulty, threat, or failing as problems but as opportunities.  A growth mindset realizes that a person’s true potential is unknown and worthy of being explored and developed continually.  It approaches the world, life, work, and even problems with a sense of wonder, curiosity, exploration, and adaptation.

Importantly, a growth mindset focuses on the process of becoming a better person whether anyone notices or not.  It avoids trying to build, project, or protect an image of competence because it believes growth is more important than approval.  A passion for growth and learning grows to replace the hunger for approval.  In the mind of one with a growth mindset, growth is the product of work, effort, and risk of failure, so opportunities and challenges are pursued with anticipation not trepidation.  The growth mindset believes there are no limits to personal growth and development, and that barriers exist primarily within the person.

The leadership angle on a growth mindset is this: without a growth mindset, one’s ability to be an influencer of people – the key element of leadership – is reduced and may be non-existent.  Likewise, as a leader one must be growing in skills, empathy, compassion, insight and wisdom.  If that is not the case, true leadership will escape the person, and those being led will languish.

“Becoming is better than being.”

The next post will include growth mindset strategies.

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