Leadership: Growth Mindset Thinking

“In a growth mindset, challenges are exciting rather than threatening.  So, rather than thinking, ’Oh, I’m going to reveal my weaknesses,’ you can say, ‘Wow, here’s a chance to grow.’”  – Carol Dweck

“Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward.” – John Maxwell

Throughout the first 34 years of my life, I lived with a fixed mindset (explained in previous post).  Languished under a fixed mindset is probably more accurate.  Fear that I did not bring enough to the table, and greater fear that I would be exposed for it ruled my thinking.  Externalizing “fault” replaced responsibility for actions.  New experiences were intimidating and often avoided.  Every challenge had to be carefully managed to keep it under control and to avoid any surprises that might reveal weakness.  What I knew was the focus, and what I did not know (but needed to know) was carefully hidden.  Growth was limited by my careful avoidance of it.

It was through a change in my career, being put into a job for which I had no experience and background, that I began to slowly edge out of the strict confines of my fixed mindset.  Fortunately for me, I had a number of key people in my life at that time who challenged me and worked with me on embracing growth, and to move proactively toward challenges and personal changes.  What I have learned and experienced since then has been life-changing.  Growth is rewarding, and often fun.  Challenges are where the real growth happens.  Without real growth, impact and influence in life are strictly limited and often non-existent.  Difficulties, setbacks, and failures are not to be feared, rather are key processes to be leveraged for greater growth and greater good.  Failure is a friend as long as one remembers to “fail forward.” as John Maxwell would say.

Following are a few lessons learned along the way to a growth mindset, and the freedom, influence, and impact that grows out of that mindset.  Enjoy them, and hopefully you will find many of them applicable and useful as new tools in your growth mindset toolbox.

  1. Commit to the hard and sometimes painful work of developing and/or strengthening a true growth mindset.
  2. Allow yourself to be humbled, exposed and examined in a true mentoring relationship. Be the one who is mentored by a more experienced person.  Open the relationship to honest evaluation, and accept what comes with gratitude.  Listen, learn, and apply the learning as true changes deep in your living, and not as window dressing or that which you can use to impress or “teach” others.  As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
  3. Avoid trying to build, project, or protect an image of competence – practice honesty in self-assessment and self-report
  4. Believe personal growth is more important than the product of work or effort
  5. Believe growth comes through challenges – those chosen for us as well as those chosen by us
  6. Avoid redefining “challenge” to that which can be managed predictably
  7. Embrace change, challenge, and difficulty as opportunities, not problems – pursue these opportunities with anticipation, not trepidation
  8. Become aware of habits of mind that dismiss challenges – it is very human of us to choose the path of comfort, and to avoid that which will make us squirm, stretch, and perhaps tear a little. Before you refuse or turn away from a challenge, even a big one, check you motives and choosing challenges a habit.
  9. Seek challenges outside of expertise or comfort – move toward that which scares you, and occasionally that which scares you to death. We cannot grow if we are not willing to move toward our fears.  Neither can we lead if we will not go to our fears.  For help in this, I recommend the excellent book, “Feel The Fear, And Do It Anyway” by Dr. Susan Jeffers.
  10. Recognize the need to change the internal narrative – be aware of negative self-talk related to growth, change, and challenge
  11. Embrace what I call “the swap,” the life-changing decision to make important trades or swaps in life – swapping safety, validation and comfort for risk, growth, and adventure, for example. Risks taken in one area can yield benefits in other areas in terms of willingness to risk and strategies for managing fear, outcomes, etc.
  12. Embrace risk in your life; learn new things, seek appropriate adventure, expand your circles, walk across the room in social settings, do things at which you are likely (or certain) to fail. Do not apply that fail test to activities such as sky-diving.
  13. Feel safe failing – failure is a pathway to growth that many may miss entirely because they are turned back by the prospect of it, or they see it as an endpoint or a process instead of as a passageway to greater things. The idea of “failing forward” (Maxwell and others) frees us to follow through on failure, to find and leverage growth points and strength factors, and to learn valuable lessons for future endeavors. Note: feeling safe in failure may be an institutional issue in some instances – yet for most of us it is almost always a personal issue.

Again, a great saying: “Becoming is better than being.”  Make it your mantra!

“To know others is wisdom.  To know oneself is enlightenment.” – Lao Tzu

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