To Grow or Not, is a Mindset

As a young chief executive at 26, I signed up to read an MBA, thinking that the toolkit I would develop from the Masters degree would be enough to grow into a competent leader within an organisation. How wrong I was! If anything, studying opened up my eyes to how much there was to learn, and not even one lifetime is enough to build the competencies to be an exemplary leader, let alone a well-rounded human being!


This curiosity to learn has been the single-most effective enhancer of my ability, aside from self-awareness and positive action. Realising that you are fallible opens you up to learning, whilst realising that making a difference requires taking action, drives you to want to find ways to be better at what you know and do.


This approach to learning is explained eloquently in Psychologists’ C Dweck’s work on Mindset, and drives the underpinning a Growth Mindset; one that implies a belief that we are not destined to remain who we are as a result of our DNA or upbringing, but can choose to become who we want to be. People with a growth mindset become successful because they can conquer adversity and create their own destiny.


A fixed minset holds you back, looks for safety and keeps you in your comfort zone. In business, this quickly means that you are overtaken as the speed of change is relentless. Organisations led by people with a fixed mindset are often resistant to change, unlikely to innovate and very risk averse. They run the organisation by the rule book and fixed structures. As a result, they lose talented people who feel stifled and trapped, unable to play to their strengths or grow themselves. Organisations recruiting millennials need to address this with haste, as it may be the major cause of talent attrition.


The leadership team plays an important part in resolving this fatal disease in an organisation. Whilst a CEO may have a growth mindset and encourage innovation and change, the executive team is the implementer of this change and needs to share the same beliefs. Otherwise, the incompatibility will lead to serious friction that will grind even the most well-oiled machine to a halt. On the other hand, an executive that is keen to explore, and curious about creativity and innovation, will be frustrated by a leader who is reluctant to invite new ways of doing things and motivation will drop to a point of apathy.


The manifestation of an organisation with a growth mindset is one who’s people are innovative, agile and resilient. This culture is the symptom of a deeper belief system that drives the positive behaviours associated with a growth mindset. The foundation of this belief system, according to Simon Clarkson, is the way we think. If we change the way we think about the influence we have on ourselves and the world around us as something that is malleable to our efforts, we can become self-motivated, believe in accountability, and create behaviours that demonstrate resilience and positive action. In essence, changing the way we think will change our mindset into one that takes responsibility for both good and bad, and takes positive action to make things better.


It is the whole organisation, therefore, that needs to change to a growth mindset. Let’s look at some of the signs of a Fixed Mindset and compare them to a Growth Mindset; (courtesy of Nigel Holmes)



So how do we go about developing a growth mindset within an organisation?

Dweck provides some simple steps (ref: MindTools/C Dweck) that you can take to switch to a new way of thinking, which in turn will drive new behaviours and outputs. Leaders need to be given the support to develop themselves and in turn, create a growth mindset in their respective teams. At Ultimate Performance we focus on raising the quality of leadership through their personal growth, so changing the individual mindset is the start.

Step 1. Listen to yourself. The voice of a fixed mindset will stop you from following the path to success. For example, can you hear yourself questioning whether you have the skills or talent for a project? Do you worry that you’ll fail and that people will look down on you? When you think about taking on a new challenge, do you resist for fear of failing? Perhaps you’ve received negative feedback and you hear yourself making excuses, blaming others, and defending yourself. If you do, you can use thought awareness to combat negative thinking. Self awareness is the starting point to changing your mindset and coaching at this early stage will help you get out of the ‘locked-in’ mindset that is self-constricting.

Step 2. Recognize that you have a choice. Everyone will face obstacles, challenges and defeats throughout life, but the way that you respond to them can make the difference between success and failure. If you have a fixed mindset, you’ll see these setbacks as proof that you’re just not up to the job. But if you look at them as opportunities for growth, you can develop a plan for action, such as learning, working hard, changing your strategy, and trying again. This leads to resilience.

Step 3. Get out of your comfort zone and challenge your fixed mindset. When you’re faced with a challenge and you hear yourself thinking that you’d better not try because you don’t have the talent to succeed, remember that you can learn the skills you need to achieve your goals. You may not succeed the first time, but practice will help you to develop. For example, if you’re facing a challenge and you think, “I’m not sure I can do this. I don’t think I’m smart enough,” then challenge this fixed mindset by responding with, “I’m not sure if I can do it and I may not get it right the first time, but I can learn with practice.”  Do not be afraid to ask for support and encouragement from people around you that you trust.

Step 4. Take positive action. When you practice thinking and acting in a mindset of growth, it becomes easier to tackle obstacles in a more positive way. Think of it like playing an instrument or swinging a golf club: nobody does it perfectly the first time. When you make a mistake, try to see it as a chance to learn.


Think of how you can help your team by using the growth mindset. The most important part of leaders is to allow people to make mistakes, and create an environment that encourages new thinking. Catch yourself from dissuading new ideas even if you think it might not work.  Praise your people for their efforts and for having an attitude of learning. If you had a fixed idea of someone’s abilities, recognize and appreciate him when he improves. You can support your team’s development with workshops or coaching. To build teamwork and encourage people to voice their opinions and ideas, create an environment of open discussion and communication.


Ultimately, any organisation that has a fixed mindset and culture will slowly grind to a halt and be overtaken by competitors. Talent will jump ship looking for new opportunities to grow their skills and implement their ideas. The only way to prevent this is to change the root cause – the way people in organisations think.


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