Years ago, as a young 19-year-old, I accepted a challenging service assignment that would interrupt my university studies, lead me to leave friends and family and spend two years in South Korea, learning the Korean language to the best of my ability so that I would be better equipped to serve the Korean people. It turns out that Korean is a difficult language to learn for English speakers, and I really struggled despite giving it everything I had. I noticed that some of the other service volunteers I was training with picked it up much easier than I did and it would be an understatement to say that this was very discouraging to me. I fell into the all too common trap of measuring my success by comparing myself to the performance and outcomes of others.
As time went on and as I consistently and diligently worked at learning the language and applying it in everyday life, I slowly but surely improved and grew in my confidence. I developed important daily habits that helped me make continual progress. Over time, I noticed that I started “catching up” with some of those in my training group that had picked things up so much faster in the beginning. I began to be tapped to fill leadership roles despite being a complete novice. In fact, by the end of my two-year volunteer service, I had grown into one of the best non-native Korean speakers. It was sort of a classic tortoise and the hare story. I was never complacent and I continually pushed myself. Unbeknownst to me at the time, what I had learned and developed as a young 19-year-old service volunteer and leader in a foreign country was what would later become known as a “growth mindset.”
What is a Growth vs. a Fixed Mindset?
In her groundbreaking book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dr. Carol Dweck introduced the world to the concepts of growth and fixed mindsets. While she didn’t invent these approaches, decades of research allowed her to shine a light on the benefits (and dangers) of these different mindsets. In brief, she describes the distinction between these two common approaches as follows: “In the fixed mindset, everything is about the outcome. If you fail — or if you’re not the best — it’s all been wasted. The growth mindset allows people to value what they’re doing regardless of the outcome.” Other scholars describe the growth mindset as “a belief that people, including oneself, can change their talents, abilities and intelligence.”
In other words, it is as much, or more, about the process than the outcome. We often can’t control outcomes, despite our best efforts. But we can all choose to approach the process as one of continual learning and growth. Having a growth mindset (as opposed to a fixed one) also means that we recognize the reality that we are all starting from different places and that we are all at different points in our personal journey; we don’t need to compare ourselves to those around us, we just need to be focused on our own continued development and growth.
What Does a Growth vs. Fixed Mindset Look Like for A Leader?
Those who lead with a fixed mindset (toward themselves and others) often demonstrate demotivating micromanaging behaviors, create a culture of fear within their teams, increase employee burnout and turnover and drive lower long-term performance. On the other hand, a leader with a growth mindset sees opportunity, even during times of crisis. They look for ways to help their team grow, break down silos and create opportunities for collaboration so that they can overcome challenges together. They never place blame, foster personal accountability and also work to improve themselves.
How Can You Model a Growth Mindset for Your People?
When we lead with a growth mindset, we not only see the yet-undeveloped personal potential of individuals on our team and the team as a collective whole, but we also recognize our own growth potential and continually seek to fulfill it. In this way, we can successfully model a healthy growth mindset for our people, while taking proactive steps to eliminate a fixed mindset in how the team interacts with each other and performs their jobs. We need to be vocal about the growth we see (in ourselves and in others on the team), encourage and applaud sincere effort and the learning that occurs and work to help our people see their own untapped potential and actively support them in achieving it.
Focus on Continual Growth and Development
Life is a marathon, not a sprint. In fact, life isn’t even a race at all, at least not in the conventional sense. The truth is, we all start at different points on the track (based on a variety of personal, family and societal circumstances) and our personal journeys often take us off what we think is a predetermined path. We aren’t actually racing against anyone else at all; we are only racing ourselves. When we trip and fall, we pick ourselves back up, dust ourselves off and continue on. When we reach an obstacle, we can learn from it and, in time, overcome it. At the end of our personal race, we find that there isn’t even a finish line. It was always simply about the journey.
As leaders, we need to foster a deeply rooted personal commitment to continual growth and development, both in ourselves and within each member of our team. We need to encourage lifelong learning and support others. Not only will fostering a growth mindset lead to greater personal, team and organizational outcomes, it will help everyone achieve their fullest human potential.
Original source: Forbes
Written by: Jonathan H. Westover, Ph.D
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