Adaptive Leaders: No Growth is Failure

To achieve one’s potential as a person, an influencer, and a leader, one must move from fixed or mixed mindset into a true growth mindset (see previous post here).  To quote Carol Dweck, one of the top researchers of growth mindset development:  “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.

Dealing with fear is a common obstacle for those with a fixed mindset whoa re realizing the need to honestly grow. Fear of being found out, of being identified as a less than adequate leader, is paralyzing to many. Fear of pursuing true growth may stem from the perception that to grow and change is to admit not being adequate up to this point. The “perception of perfection,” carefully crafted as a form of self-protection, is simply posing as competent. This posing may not be driven by incompetence as much as a reluctance to find out if one is competent in a public way.

The perception of perfection is maintained by posing as the expert, not acknowledging any gaps in knowledge, refusing to engage in any activity that might expose a lack of expertise. Tasks are cherry-picked to protect the image of competence, and activities that would risk exposure are conveniently avoided. Learning, when it happens, is done in private and for the purpose of avoiding exposure. Much of the leaders energy goes into managing the perception and not into effective growth or leading.

For those who resonate with this fixed-mindset description, there is a better way. It is not as scary as you might think. We will explore that way in the next Adaptive Leaders post.

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