The Importance of a Growth Mindset in Leadership
The Importance of a Growth Mindset in Leadership

The Importance of a Growth Mindset in Leadership

Leadership Development, Employee Well-being   — 4 MIN


In school, effective educators create a learning culture where students feel safe expressing their thoughts. Rather than only accepting the right answer, they encourage students to think about why the wrong answer might not work. Instead of allowing students to give up on a subject they dislike or don’t understand, good teachers pose it as a challenge to expand their skill set and let them know they are capable of learning anything. To describe educators who believe skills and intelligence can be developed, Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck coined the term “growth mindset.” This type of thought process is in contrast to those with a “fixed mindset," who believe knowledge and talents are things people naturally have or don’t have. Dweck’s research began back in the 70s to study how children cope with failure, but it is quickly becoming an effective theory to apply in the workplace and a key component of leadership development programs.

In her book, “The Psychology of Success,” Dweck refers to studies that show fixed-minded managers don’t believe in personal change. They only look for existing talent and judge employees as competent or incompetent based on their current skills. Managers like this don’t see the value in developing their employees, and they don’t even notice if a team member shows improvement. 

But leaders with a growth mindset do notice. They want to encourage progress because it’s better for the entire organization. Since changing mindset is so important to a company’s success, it should be part of every leadership development program.

The benefits of having a growth mindset at work

To explore how a company’s mindset affects its personnel, Dweck and her colleagues collaborated with the consulting firm Senn Delaney in 2010. They surveyed a diverse sample of employees at seven Fortune 1000 companies and found that those working in a growth-mindset environment were: 

  • 47% more likely to say their colleagues are trustworthy
  • 34% more likely to feel a strong sense of ownership and commitment to the company
  • 65% more likely to say the company supports risk-taking
  • 49% more likely to say the company fosters innovation

Instead of being afraid to mess up, employees in a growth mindset organization are able to appreciate challenges as learning opportunities. This often results in a collaboration that generates innovative ideas that benefit the entire company.  

Managers within growth-mindset organizations are not afraid to move employees around and promote from within, while fixed-mindset leaders assume better help can only be found on the outside. Employees who don’t expect to ever grow within their current company are not as motivated to innovate and look elsewhere to climb the career ladder.  

And in times of crisis, employees who work in growth-minded companies are more resilient. They know how to deal with the unexpected and find ways to adapt to change because they’ve been given a chance to take risks before.   

Why a growth mindset is important for leadership development

When leaders operate in a fixed mindset, they only care about end results. To them, every challenge means failure rather than an opportunity to learn. They blame staff members for undesirable outcomes or insist on doing things themselves because someone else might make a mistake. In the meantime, employees all around them feel discouraged and unimportant. And they’re definitely not likely to try something new that could fix the issue.  

Leaders with a growth mindset don’t focus on failure. Instead, they encourage everyone on their teams to learn from the process. During employee reviews, they don’t just pass judgment on skills that are missing; they help identify talents that can be developed. Growth-minded leaders believe employees have the potential to become managers and do everything they can to help them get there. 

But as beneficial as it is for leaders to have a growth mindset, it doesn’t always come naturally. Fortunately, they can learn to be growth-minded through an effective leadership development program. 

How leaders can encourage a growth mindset 

Cultivating a growth mindset requires embracing change, asking for feedback, and always looking forward. And just like teachers who make their students feel capable, leaders can instill a growth mindset in their employees.  

Stretch Skillsets
Taking on new challenges (and encouraging employees to do the same) gives us the opportunity to explore our capabilities. Whether it’s requesting to be a part of a new project or asking a peer how a new software works, there’s never anything wrong with expanding our minds.

Encourage Constructive Criticism
We don’t see what others around us see. Taking advice from the viewpoint of peers allows us to identify blind spots where we can improve, and to get an idea of how to criticize others more gently. Whether feedback is requested during meetings or via an email survey, it can humble everyone involved.  

Shake Things Up
When we get too comfortable in our daily routines, it’s hard to handle anything different. Wavering from the ordinary can help us understand how much can be accomplished outside of the box. Employees should work from home once in a while to test the technology and see what it’s like to collaborate behind screens. Fully remote employees should meet up regularly if possible. Anything that encourages variation can be beneficial in accepting change.

Lose the Blame Game
This isn’t easy for many, but taking ownership of errors and embracing failure allows us to get curious and ask how to do better next time. Diverting responsibility to someone else just leads to frustration for everyone, and nothing gets fixed. 

Make “Yet” a Regular Word in Your Vocabulary
Setbacks and delays are frustrating until this one important word is added into the mix. By recognizing that a task is challenging but entirely possible, it encourages everyone to keep trying.

Why growth mindset training should be a part of any leadership development program

When leaders are allowed to operate with a fixed mindset, the entire organization can suffer. Not only does it stifle creativity and hinder collaboration, but if employees don’t feel valued, they leave. Leaders must learn to seek input and feedback from others, foster a culture of innovation, and encourage staff members to keep moving forward.

A growth mindset can be learned. Through our convenient virtual leadership development training courses, your organization can encourage leaders to unleash their full potential as supportive managers. Contact Blue Ocean Brain to schedule a consultation.