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A Growth Mindset - For Today

Leadership student and leader Kenneth Blanchard said, “Everyone knows that not all change is good or even necessary. But in a world that is constantly changing, it is to our advantage to learn how to adapt and enjoy something better.”

That has never been truer than this very moment. We MUST be open to new ideas and innovations to survive, let alone thrive. By and large, there will be no going back to the way things were. In a sense it’s a new AD/BC line. So much will be defined as before 2020 and after 2020. If hanging on to what was is your mindset, you will be left behind and ultimately close your doors.

Because people in the know have repeatedly asserted how vital a growth mindset is, the phrase has become a buzz word in leadership circles. But what does it mean? Let’s take a look at three common misconceptions identified by researcher Carol Dweck:

  • I already have it, and I always have. People often confuse a growth mindset with being flexible or open-minded or with having a positive outlook — qualities they believe they’ve simply always had. This is a false growth mindset. Everyone is actually a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets, and that mixture continually evolves with experience. A “pure” growth mindset doesn’t exist.

  • A growth mindset is just about praising and rewarding effort. This isn’t true for students and it’s not true for employees in organizations. In both settings, outcomes matter. It is critical to reward productive effort, learning, and progress. It is very important to emphasize the processes that yield these things, such as seeking help from others, trying new strategies, and capitalizing on setbacks to move forward effectively.

  • Just embrace a growth mindset, and good things will happen. Mission statements are wonderful things. But what difference does it mean to employees if the company doesn’t implement policies that make them real and attainable? Dweck says, “Organizations that actually live out a growth mindset encourage appropriate risk-taking, knowing that some risks won’t work out. They reward employees for important and useful lessons learned, even if a project does not meet its original goals. They support collaboration across organizational boundaries rather than competition among employees or units. They are committed to the growth of every member, not just in words but in deeds, such as broadly available development and advancement opportunities. And they continually reinforce growth mindset values with concrete policies.”

Correcting these misconceptions doesn’t make a growth mindset a breeze to accomplish, however. We all have our own fixed-mindset triggers. When we face a challenge, receive criticism, or don’t do as well as others are doing, we can easily default to insecurity or defensiveness. Those responses stifle growth. Our work environments, too, can foster fixed-mindset triggers. “A company that emphasizes sheer talent makes it harder for people to practice growth-mindset thinking and behavior, such as sharing information, collaborating, innovating, seeking feedback, or admitting errors. It’s just too risky,” says Dweck.

It’s hard work to identify our triggers and “talk back” to them, but it makes the ultimate difference.

Lee Baucum, Ph.D., is a coach, teacher, and self-described “thriveologist.” He urges developing a thriving, growth mindset. It’s not an either/or position, it’s a continuum, something ongoing. Expect to learn by failing, then keep learning.

He offers a few steps we can begin today that will move us along the growth mindset continuum:

  • Get started. Harry Truman said, “Imperfect action trumps perfect inaction.” That is absolute truth. Another proverb says, “It’s easier to steer a moving ship.”

  • Try something new. Confidence builds competence. It loops and loops, making everything stronger. Sure, you’ll feel uncomfortable—but only until you feel comfortable.

  • Be able to say, “I am learning.” You don’t have to know everything. You don’t always need to have the answer or be the smartest person in the room. Surround yourself with people who can teach you, people from whom you can learn. There may be options that you don’t know about yet. Another proverb says, “Beginners see many possibilities. Experts see only a few.” Experts often shut down great possibilities.

  • Embrace struggle. There can be no growth without struggle. When you are comfortable, you don’t reach for a challenge. You stay where you are. Challenge yourself to find a place of deep meaning and purpose in what you are doing. But also keep in mind that we are not built to struggle all the time. Growth mindset is built like muscle—struggle, rest, rebuild, repeat.

  • Redefine failure. See it as a lesson learned. Your failure can actually be a new starting place for the next step. You don’t fail because you get knocked down or fall. You fail because you don’t get back up.

  • Embrace trial and error. It’s not possible to know if a solution will work until it’s tried out. Life is an experience in trial and error—come to love life by experimentation.

With these strategies, you CAN thrive in times of great challenge. Your growth mindset will propel you through the struggle.

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