“Becoming is better than being.” – Carol Dweck
“Growth is the only evidence of life.” – John Henry Newman
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 habit of mind that leads to 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 the education, 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.”