As a researcher deeply passionate about the field of learning and development, I have acquired priceless insights through observing my three children as they’ve grown. Throughout their infancy and toddler years, I witnessed their unwavering fearlessness when confronting new challenges. They displayed an astonishing level of resilience, continuously striving to master tasks even in the face of repeated failures, whether it was learning to grasp a spoon, constructing complex block towers, or taking their initial unsteady steps. However, as each of them reached the age of three, each started to demonstrate an aversion to risk.
Fear began to exert its influence, dampening their enthusiasm for trying new things. Now that they’re 4, 9, and 11, I’ve witnessed a range of approaches to learning depending on the activity in front of them. At times, I witness unbridled enthusiasm, driving them to persevere despite initial setbacks. On other occasions, instant defeat takes hold, leading to abandonment of the task and a notably negative outlook on the entire experience.
According to psychologist Carol Dweck, there is a continuum that ranges from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. The fixed mindset is a belief that intelligence is innate and unchangeable no matter how hard you work. The growth mindset is a belief that dedication, continuous learning, and hard work can elevate intelligence and abilities. Dweck has even written literature and offered programs to help parents teach the growth mindset to children so that they embrace mistakes, failures, and challenges as learning opportunities rather than an indication that they aren’t good enough. I’ve started coaching my children to understand that things that are difficult are worth the effort. Without helping them build a growth mindset, they will struggle with life’s inevitable challenges. It is the key to leadership development.
Here are the components of a growth mindset:
- Embracing Challenges: A growth mindset recognizes that challenges are part of life and an invaluable learning experience rather than seeing setbacks as something to ensure or dread.
- Effort and Dedication: Effort is the path to mastering any skill or ability. It takes work to reach goals and achieve results.
- Valuing Failure: Failing quickly is critical for learning, improvement, and growth.
- Continuous Learning: Those with a growth mindset consistently seek out opportunities to expand their knowledge and skills, believing they can always improve.
When you think about the best leaders you’ve worked with, they’ve likely had a growth mindset. They were likely wonderfully adaptive to changing circumstances, and able to flex and navigate unexpected situations, decisions, or outcomes. They were also highly resilient, able to bounce through challenges with renewed energy and determination. Leaders with a growth mindset also encourage creativity within their teams, leading to innovative solutions. They also invest in the ongoing development of their team members, coaching, guiding, and supporting each one and watching those team members reach their own leadership potential.
If you have a desire to build your own growth mindset, here are some reflection questions to consider that will put you on that journey.
- Self-awareness: How do you currently approach challenges in work and life? Are you comfortable with failure or do you generally feel defeated when things don’t go your way?
- Embrace challenges: Look for opportunities to push your boundaries. What new responsibilities or activities will be a learning experience for you? How might you thoughtfully plan out growth activities throughout the year for your personal development?
- Seek mentorship: Who in your circle seems to always learn and grow? How might you seek their guidance and perspective in shaping your goals?
In the ever-changing world of leadership, a growth mindset is a potent asset. Leaders who believe in their ability to develop and adapt not only excel in their roles but also inspire their teams to do the same. By embracing challenges, learning from failures, and fostering a culture of growth, you can build a growth mindset that serves as a cornerstone for your leadership development journey. Effective leadership is about constantly evolving and growing into a better version of yourself.