By: Wilma Slenders
“If you’re not growing, you’re dying.”
What do I mean by this? If we don’t continue to grow and develop, and believe that new glory days are possible, we’re stagnant. And, if we are stagnant and aren’t even keeping up with the changes around us, we are on the decline.
I’ve lived (most of) my life according to that belief. With parents who were Dutch immigrants (who worked very hard to achieve their goals of being farmers in Canada), it could have been easy for me to think that, since no members of my extended family EVER attended university, I wouldn’t either.
However, I always believed that was possible. I had a growth mindset at that time. I always excelled academically, and assumed my natural smarts would carry me through university. I was in shock when, at first, university was a struggle. Being an intelligent child, I didn’t really work very hard in school, still being one of the top three students in our high school, and one of less than a handful that enrolled in university. Going to university, was a complete shock and I nearly flunked out. I thought that my “natural smarts” would carry me through. Initially, it made me believe that my abilities were fixed, and nothing could help me do better.
Subsequently, there have been times in my life when I’ve had a fixed mindset, and others when I’ve had a growth mindset. I always find that when I’m able to focus my energy on encouraging myself to have a growth mindset, I am able to succeed.
John McEnroe was a prime example of someone who was stagnant: he was arrogant, egotistical, believed his own press, and didn’t think that he needed to learn. A quote from Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, exemplifies this:
For those with the fixed mindset, success is about establishing their superiority, pure and simple. Being that somebody who is worthier than the nobodies. “There was a time – I’ll admit it,” McEnroe says, “when my head was so big it could barely fit through the door.” Where’s the talk about effort and personal best? There is none. “Some people don’t want to rehearse; they just want to perform. Other people want to practice a hundred times first. I’m in the former group.” …In the fixed mindset, effort is not a cause for pride. It is something that casts doubt on your talent. (Dweck, 2006, p. 99).
We’ve seen this with many great athletes who had amazing talent. BUT when it came down to it they blamed their failure on anything and everyone but themselves, ultimately failing to learn from their mistakes to become better. The attitude is “I’m the best and I deserve to be here because of who I am and my talent.”
Years ago when I was working in Europe with a global financial telecommunications company, I experienced the same attitude when I was engaged to conduct a senior leadership training needs assessment. As part of the process, I interviewed the top 20 executives located in Europe and the U.S. Interestingly, almost all of the leaders who worked in Europe believed that they had reached their position as a result of their talent, intelligence, and abilities, and therefore had no need for development or training activities. This showed a fixed mindset. They were already the best they could be and no further work was required. End of story. No need for a training strategy for them.
Some of the leaders in the U.S. had a growth mindset. They realized that there were things that they could learn and were open to that. Newsflash: we all need to learn and grow.
What is the difference between fixed and growth mindsets?
Fixed mindsets rely on the idea that children are born with natural talents and traits that are set in stone for life. Growth mindsets are based in the idea that success comes from effort, practice, and hard work. This is similar to the nature vs. nurture debate about leadership.
In my coaching and consulting work, I’ve found that people who have a growth mindset are the ones who are okay with failure, seeing it as a way to learn more about success. They believe that they are succeeding if they make an effort to do their best, learn from mistakes, and adapt in the future, whereas people with a fixed mindset believe that failure is bad. Thomas Edision epitomizes a growth mindset: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Research has been done on fixed and growth mindsets (more here). Dr. Carol Dweck, the author of “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”, has been researching achievement and success, and has discovered the power of mindset. She’s found that it is not just our abilities, talent and intelligence that lead to success; it is how we approach our goals. Talent, abilities, and intelligence may get us there, but if we are not prepared and able to learn from our failures we will not maintain the level of success that we desire.
Fixed and growth mindsets are not a given; they are a choice. We make the choice to either learn from our failures and persevere, or back away from them and believing that we are “not just good enough”.
How do growth mindsets help us?
- Success comes from doing our best, and in learning and improving (Dweck, p. 98).
- Setbacks are perceived as motivating, rather than hindering. They’re informative. They’re a wake-up call (Dweck, p. 99).
- In sports, it allowed people to take charge of their own process and control the outcome for success – and then maintain it (Dweck, p. 101).
Questions to ask yourself:
- What type of mindset do you have?
- What type of mindset does your company have?
- What can you do to change your mindset and your company’s mindset if it is fixed?
Dweck, C.S., Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, New York: Ballentine Books, 2006.