Do you remember what you wanted to be when you grew up, when you were young enough that the sky (or maybe outer space!) was the limit? I wanted to be an artist, but by the time I was in high school, I was actually terrified that the required semester of art would be the death of my perfect GPA.
How did I go from being an aspiring artist at age 5 to afraid to draw in high school? By then I had already been characterized as “left-brained” — logical and analytical. I knew my middle sister was better at more creative work; she was “right-brained.” While I was raised to believe I could do anything if I worked hard, I still ended up with limiting thoughts about my ability to learn and develop new skills. In other words, I didn’t have a growth mindset.
In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck defines a growth mindset this way: “In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and exercise.”
Because great leaders lead from the front, every leader needs to both have a growth mindset and foster a growth mindset in their teams to fuel innovation, risk-tasking, collaboration and motivation in their associates, all key skills for long-term success in our rapidly changing digital world.
How can you foster a growth mindset in your organization? As with most changes you want to drive with your team, you have to start by being the example. Moving to a growth mindset requires intentional practice to believe in yourself and focused effort to act on that belief to grow your skills and achieve new goals. Talk about your own growth goals, be a continuous learner and share your journey, including failures, with your team.
This may sound scary. It requires some hard work in vulnerability and realizing that as leaders we don’t need to put ourselves on a pedestal. We will inspire more through sharing our own growth goals and struggles than putting on a façade of perfection. By showing our own dedication to continuous learning, we will raise the bar for our associates.
Once you’re walking the walk and talking the talk, focus on creating supportive programs to encourage the same in your team:
First and foremost, coaching proves you believe in your associates’ abilities to grow their skills and knowledge and take on new responsibilities. Don’t just think of coaching as a way to address performance problems; think of it as the way to heighten every associate’s performance.
Don’t just offer or require it, create room for associates to guide their own learning with accountability to both complete it and put it into practice. One way I do this with the leaders on my team is to have a quarterly discussion on the leadership training each leader took, what they learned and their goal for applying it. We use these sessions to hold each other accountable for continuous learning and for driving change in our behavior through intentional practice of new leadership skills.
Mentoring / Job Shadowing
Give associates opportunities to learn from others who have the skills they want to develop. They may need help to identify a mentor or simply validation that shadowing is worth the time investment.
Whether it’s their day-to-day tasks or a side project, give associates opportunities to work just beyond their comfort zone and ensure they have the building blocks of success — a clear understanding of what done looks like, regular check-ins to validate they are on track and the time and resources to accomplish it.
Invest in New Ideas
Whether it’s a new technology or a new procedure, show your associates that you support their ideas by trying new ways of working whenever possible. If you want them to believe in themselves and their ability to learn something new, help them turn those ideas into reality.
If your team members are stretching themselves far enough, they will fail at some point. Embrace that failure as an opportunity to learn — about themselves and the work — and help them bounce back from it. Better yet, teach them how to bounce back before they fail.
I still have one of my high school art class drawings hanging on my wall; it’s a proud accomplishment and a reminder to not limit myself and to see the same growth opportunities in others. By investing in yourself and your team, you can shift your organization to a growth mindset and improve your team’s performance.