Have you ever found yourself saying, “I suck at this job,” or “I’m so smart,” or “I’m bad at math.” These phrases and statements are common – we all make similar assertions from time to time. They offer a fixed way of viewing ourself. The danger is this type of thinking only offers a binary understanding of ourselves; we either are, or we aren’t, we do or we don’t. This understanding can become the bedrock of our identity and the lens in which we see ourselves.
The fixed mindset comes from the belief that our qualities are set in stone. This is affirmed by statements about talent, skill, and gifts. “She’s really gifted,” “He’s a natural.” This language is pervasive in our culture – it carries through athletics, arts, business, education, you name it. Through this lens, working to develop or grow is not part of the story. Again, you either have the talent or you don’t.
Shifting toward a Growth Mindset
In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. offers a different approach to this fixed sense of self: the growth mindset. In opposition to the fixed mindset, the growth mindset stems from the belief that your basic qualities can be cultivated and changed through effort over time – through application and experience, one can move the needle. We all have varying degrees of “natural talent,” which provides different starting points. The growth mindset encourages learning and effort regardless of where we started.
The change in mindset to growth can be simple. It is really the view you adopt of yourself. Instead of thinking, “I suck at this job,” which is the fixed version, changing the language to “I’m not good at this job, but if I keep working hard I can figure it out” shifts toward the growth mindset. By changing the language and by adopting an attitude of learning, we can begin to see the steps it will take to develop.
The danger of a fixed mindset
Having a fixed mindset creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over again. The fragility of a fixed mind is that anything that counteracts the belief you hold of yourself can shatter that belief. Criticism then, is seen as an attack on your character and creates a sense of confusion and defeat. For example, have you ever received a bad grade? What about a bad review? Lost a sale? How did you respond? The fixed mindset would take this as a sign of failure; often leading to withdrawal, frustration, and loss of motivation. The growth mindset views this as an opportunity to confront the challenge and keep working. It informs the future work.
The power of a growth mindset
The growth mindset offers the platform to develop, to grow, to expand, and to view challenges as opportunity. Individuals with the growth mindset believe they can get smarter and stretch themselves by picking hard challenges and view failure as an opportunity to grow. Tied to leadership, the growth mindset confirms the philosophy that leadership is about growth. It’s about expanding, learning, seeing new ways and approaches, adapting, and incremental improvement. Viewing challenges and setbacks as opportunities takes time to foster and develop, and the more you can view challenges as opportunities, the more likely you are to be a leader (not just seem like one). So the next time you experience a setback or a challenge, think about how you view it, and choose growth.
Reference: Dweck, Carol S.. (2008) Mindset :the new psychology of success New York : Ballantine Books
Here’s a visual outlining the difference between the fixed and growth mindset:
Stay tuned for part III of the Growth Leadership Series: Growth Language
As humans, we are hardwired for narrative. The stories we hear, and the stories we tell ourselves, have great influence and impact over our beliefs and actions. This blog examines the power of language in expanding our leadership mindset.
For part 1: Vertical Development, click here.