Leaders: Affected by Mindset
One of my favorite educational psychologists is Carol Dweck. Dweck’s idea of the “growth mindset” has been around for a little over a decade and is currently being applied widely in both educational (e.g. as a way to help students combat math anxiety) and business settings. The concepts behind Dweck’s research are quite simple and I believe it is this simplicity that accounts for much of the theory’s broad application and success.
Dweck’s research (2006) demonstrates that when people have a fixed mindset they tend to believe that most traits (their own and others’) are inherited and cannot be changed. People are either smart or they are not. They are athletic or they are not. They are musically talented or they not. Dweck’s research demonstrates that the primary problem with this perspective is that when “smart” people and students believe that they are smart they tend to seek out overly easy or simplistic tasks that confirm their beliefs that they are intelligent. These individuals tend to be very fearful of failure and extending themselves to tackle difficult cognitive (and even physical) tasks because they are afraid that when they do not succeed at these tasks they will be perceived (by others and themselves) as stupid. So these folks tend to avoid new challenges and behaviors. Essentially they avoid change and fail to push themselves toward achieving new challenges.
Conversely, when someone has a growth mindset they tend to believe that intelligence is malleable and can be developed with effort, practice and persistence. When we have this perspective we tend to view “effort” as being highly positive. This effort tends to “ignite” our intelligence and helps it to grow. Dweck considers the brain to be similar to a muscle and the more we work that muscle the stronger and bigger it gets. Dweck’s research shows that students who maintained a growth mindset consistently and significantly outperformed their peers academically.
But how exactly do you promote a growth mindset in a leader?
By trying to convince the leader to not only do things differently (e.g. to risk and change) but to do them while being more positive! Does this sound too simplistic? It actually isn't. Getting a leader to express gratitude can actually be quite difficult if the leader feels that there isn't really anything to be all that grateful about. However, if the leader can learn to express gratitude then there are benefits for everyone! Research shows that expressing gratitude is a particularly effective way to increase trust among others is because doing so tends to increase the self-esteem, happiness, and increased pride in both the individual who expresses gratitude and the individual to whom gratitude is expressed (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). We have seen this work in action when we have coached leaders to consider increasing the amount of gratitude that they express toward their employees. It is amazing how entire office cultures can shift when leaders start to focus on their employee’s strengths.
One of our most powerful tools here at 2Human Strategies is our use of some of the tools that positive psychology offers. A growth mindset is highly aligned with our adherence to the tenets of positive psychology because a growth mindset acknowledges the capacity and capability of everyone. ALL of us can be successful if we are given enough support and if we choose to believe that we can improve and change.
Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: the new psychology of success. New York: Random House.
Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 337–389.