Why a growth mindset is key to leadership success
Fact: Developing a growth mindset is critical to thriving in today’s technological world.
AI is quickly becoming ubiquitous in the workplace. This, combined with the recent overhaul of the work environment, puts unprecedented levels of pressure on leaders to swiftly adapt.
Adopting a growth mindset is a critical step to effective leadership. Practicing this mindset is what will make future leaders stand out.
What is a growth mindset in a leadership context?
People with a growth mindset approach learning and new ideas with an open mind and an open heart. That last part may read a bit melodramatic in a leadership article, but the ability to withhold judgement is important when approaching new ideas.
At Insights, we often refer to this intentionality around adopting an open mind/open heart as "awareness of potential opportunities".
This means that, when we think we have the answer to a problem, we recognize that we have but ONE answer to a problem. Then we hold space for more, potentially better, answers to come up.
Adam Grant, the author of Think Again, purports that the real measure of sustainable success is one's ability to rethink and unlearn. Things change, and if we indulge in entrenched thinking (and to be fair, most of us do and are utterly unaware of it) we risk being left behind.
Entrenched thinking is similar to Carol Dweck's research that talks about fixed mindsets vs. growth mindsets. The challenge with a fixed mindset, according to Dweck is that it leaves little room for evolving skills and beliefs. With a fixed mindset, potential is finite, with a growth mindset, it’s infinite.
Why is this important to great leaders?
Diversity, inclusion and belonging
When it comes to leading teams, diversity of thought and fostering a sense of belonging ideally go hand-in-hand.
Leaders are cognizant that diversity of thought is essential. Yet, entrenched thinking often causes leaders to fail to create a sense of belonging among team members who have the courage to think differently.
Team members who lack a sense of belonging tend to become disengaged; more prone to quiet quitting (or even loud quitting).
In contrast, a leader's ability to approach new ideas and diverse thinking with a growth mindset creates inclusion and a sense of psychological safety. This enhances engagement and engagement drives productivity.
This study goes back almost a decade, but it reverberates in the leadership industry to this day: Google's 2014 Project Aristotle shook up leadership think tanks when it found the most important factor in creating innovative teams was psychological safety.
Adopting a growth mindset at the leadership level and creating psychological safety are linked; you can't have one without the other. The combination of the two, according to Google, leads to teams capable of creating true innovation.
The inverse is true as well.
Adam Grant points out companies like Sears and Barnes and Noble who were considered great thinkers in their day. But by the time their environments changed, their thinking had grown entrenched, and they were unable - or perhaps unwilling - to rethink and relearn how to adapt. Their failure to approach their challenges with a growth mindset eventually caused them to collapse.
Adopting new technologies
In the 2000s it was the shift in retail technology that sounded the death toll for companies like Sears; today it's Artificial Intelligence (soon to be omnipresent in the workplace), and shifts in employee expectations and working environments that present the challenge.
Change is constant.
Those who lead with a growth mindset and lean into these changes hold a massive advantage over those who try to resist change and "protect" their companies.
Leaders with a growth mindset will be the ones who take on board the various innovations, challenges and unknowns that come with change, and make them work for the business and the people in that business.
With that in mind, we've compiled three ways great leaders can adopt a growth mindset starting today...
1) Create high levels of psychological safety within your teams
Psychological safety empowers team members to speak up without fear of censure.
It allows for feedback, criticism, and concerns to be expressed and addressed openly, and gives your team members a chance to think critically and be heard.
Here's the rub for leaders: You cannot say you're open to feedback and then react defensively when it comes your way, and nor can your team members.
True psychological safety on a team requires communication skills. These skills allow team members and leaders to express their ideas without undermining others. Team members must also be willing to listen to what others have to say. Think: Awareness of future opportunities.
Adopting a growth mindset means embracing new ideas. This includes ideas expressed as concerns, or ideas that result from concerns.
Adam Grant has a fantastic way of expressing this. He talks about how different leaders think: preachers, prosecutors, politicians and scientists.
Basically, the preacher thinks: "I'm right", the prosecutor thinks, "You're wrong", the politician thinks, "We're right."
The scientist stands alone. The scientist thinks, "I could be wrong, let's test it." (This info is from chapter one of Grant's book, Think Again, and it's a fantastic leadership read)
Grant's scientist approaches situations with an open mindset and an attitude that's conducive to psychological safety and awareness of future opportunities.
The moment you find yourself thinking, "you're wrong", or "I already know the answer to this", it's time to exhale, close your mouth and listen to your team.
Chances are, there's a better solution that, provided it has the opportunity to surface (i.e. psychological safety), could change everything for the better.
2) Step outside of your comfort zone
Those with fixed mindsets avoid situations that threaten their view. Change is scary, and even when we think we're open, our bodies are hard-wired to resist.
Newsflash: Change doesn't creep up when we least expect it, it's always evolving right in front of us, provided we're willing to see it.
Embracing change means risk, and that feeling of a pounding heart, sweaty palms and a fission of "wow, we're really going to do this" excitement. The only way to get used to this feeling, to not be thrown by it, is to embrace it. Again and again.
Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.
When it comes to courage, the leader goes first. This is important if you expect your team to demonstrate these attributes. You must master your own reactions and perceptions if you're to push your team beyond what they *think* they're capable of.
To lead a team where everyone shares a growth mindset, your people must be challenged to grow through their work every day, and as a leader, you must be willing to openly protect them if their risks don't always succeed.
3) Create an open feedback culture
Getting feedback right is key. Communicating feedback constructively yourself, and showing others how do the same, is what gives feedback value.
Invite it. Listen to it. Test it. Act on it.
Forbes wrote: “When leaders normalize a thirst for input, feedback and guidance from multiple sources, it signals that the focus is on learning and growing (versus judging or being judged) and on valuing diversity (not just relying on the usual “experts”). It sends the clear message that we’re all learning and working on ourselves all the time, and that’s key to a growth mindset."
How can leaders measure their own growth mindset?
With a growth mindset, we’re all learning, growing, and evolving, perhaps more quickly than we may be comfortable with. But as ever, time is of the essence, and your challenge as a leader is to match the velocity of your thinking to the velocity of change in the industry.
At Insights, we understand that recognizing our own and others' behavioral preferences is essential. Learning how to communicate them using a neutral language is a powerful tool to help us through challenging times.
We are resilient because we adapt and step up. We are not fixed, and we can use a growth mindset to become the impactful leaders we wish to be.
Do your team members have Insights Discovery Personal Profiles? If so, make sure it still reflects their behavioral preferences. If not, now's the time to empower your team with awareness. The world is constantly changing around us, which means that we can also change along with it!
Find out more about how we can support your leadership development on our dedicated leadership solutions page