Leading from a Growth Mindset

A few years ago we were working on an M&A culture project and the key leader kept talking about having a growth mindset. It’s a phrase that is repeated a lot but often not clearly understood. We wrote about this mindset in the DNA section of our book, Your Leadership Voice. Growth mindset is more than just the desire to learn, it is a way of thinking.

Operating from a growth mindset means that you believe your talents and capacities can improve over time.  We all have the capacity to operate from a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. When you blame others, take criticism personally or say to yourself, “I am no good at this, I give up,” you are operating from a fixed mindset.

Research shows that growth mindset, the belief that the people in your organization can be developed, is a key differentiator in successful talent development and performance management. This belief creates a culture of collaboration and growth, encourages goal achievement, and informs effective feedback that powers performance.

To practice the growth mindset and get better at effective feedback, choose positive praise over finger pointing.  Pointing out faults does not necessarily help people get better. In fact, most people already know what didn’t work. Neuroscience shows that you get more of what you focus on. If you focus on what’s not working, you get more of what’s not working! Focus on the positive by noticing and celebrating growth and improvement.

A few tips on celebrating your people from a growth mindset:

  • Recognize – take time to understand someone’s unique strengths, gifts and abilities. Have a conversation and share the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset (either you believe you are “born smart” or you believe you can “get smarter throughout life.”) Affirm your growth mindset belief that anyone can learn, develop and change. People improve the most in their area of strength. The more you understand the potential strengths of your people, the more you can recognize their praiseworthy greatness.
  • Support –Neuroscience shows that what we believe about our capabilities impacts our success. So let your people know that you believe in their ability to figure it out, make it happen and get the job done.  Support is given through encouragement, stretch goals, and approval even when things aren’t done perfectly. Growth mindset leaders support progress over perfection.
  • Reward – celebrate what’s right with positive praise. Your praise should encourage the receiver to believe in their capabilities versus arbitrary qualities. For example, rather than complimenting someone on being really smart, praise them for how they have used their problem-solving skills to accomplish the project faster. It’s a subtle but significant difference. It takes more of your time to praise with this level of precision, but it is praise that pays!

Improve performance by recognizing your people’s strengths, supporting your people, and celebrating them with positive praise.

I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm among men the greatest asset I possess. The way to develop the best that is in a man is by appreciation and encouragement.”

– Charles R. Schwab

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