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Embracing change and challenge: Building a growth mindset

By Katie Jacobs

Without meaning to get anyone reading this too depressed, there’s a lot going on in the world right now that can make it hard to remain mentally strong. Financial insecurities for many, the destablishing speed to technological change (will I be replaced by a robot?), and a barrage of worrying headlines, from war to climate change to contend with…

But while we cannot control what’s going on out there, we can control our response to it. Rather than becoming overwhelmed or wallowing in negativity, focusing instead on building grit and having a ‘growth mindset’ can help us come through the other side thriving, not just surviving. And we can change our mindset around stress: seeing (appropriate levels of) stress as a helpful rather than harmful part of life is associated with better health, emotional wellbeing and productivity at work.

Building resilient companies helps performance too: according to research from McKinsey & Co, during the world financial crisis of 2007–09, resilient companies generated around 20% more shareholder returns, an advantage which accelerated to around 50% in the turnaround years of 2009–11 and 120% during the stable period of 2011–17.

The power of the ‘growth mindset’

Stanford University professor Carol Dweck first coined the terms ‘growth’ and ‘fixed’ mindset to describe the underlying beliefs people have about their intelligence, learning and abilities. While those with a fixed mindset believe their “qualities are carved in stone”, a growth mindset is a belief that you can cultivate and improve your basic qualities through effort and perseverance. The difference is particularly acute when it comes to dealing with failure: those with a fixed mindset are more likely to give up whereas those with a growth mindset see failure as an opportunity to learn.

According to Dweck those with a growth mindset: persist in the face of setbacks; see effort as the path to mastery; learn from criticism; find lessons and inspiration in others’ successes. This passion for stretching oneself and persevering allows individuals to thrive even during the most challenging of times. It’s not hard to see why any leader would want those qualities in their team members.

Those with a growth mindset are also more likely to have more ‘grit’, defined by the American academic and psychologist Angela Duckworth as “the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals.”

So, how can you as a leader help your teams move on the continuum towards having a growth mindset? Try these five simple tips…

  1. Reframe challenge

At the core of a growth mindset is the willingness to stretch yourself and stick to it, even when you cannot yet do it or are facing challenges. As a leader, make it safe for your team members to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zones, by promoting a ‘no blame’ culture where it is OK to fail. Embrace the power of ‘not yet’: just because you haven’t achieved something doesn’t mean you won’t, and you are on the journey to getting there.

  1. Focus on strengths

Human potential and development is central to a growth mindset. Learning about and using strengths, rather than focusing only on fixed talents, is a powerful motivator and can also help people build their resilience. Feedback should be strengths-based, praising effort as much as achievement, and highlighting improvements. Role model by talking about how you build your own strengths and inviting feedback.

  1. Celebrate effort, progress and potential

Recognising wins is important, but so too is celebrating the steps along the way. Savouring positive experiences and emotions can help build self-efficacy and reduce stress. Make a habit of celebrating effort, progress and potential – the small wins as much as the big ones. Doing so will help the team to see the growth that has been achieved. Failure can be positively recognised too: what have we learned from our mistakes?

  1. Create a culture of continuous learning

By encouraging the cultivation of growth mindsets among your team, you are on the way to creating a culture of continuous learning. As a leader, make it clear that you don’t have all the answers and are continuously learning too. Recognise the value of learning, celebrate devoting time to it or creating opportunities for social learning, with the additional benefit of bringing people together.

  1. Practise human leadership

Demonstrating empathy, authenticity and an inclusive approach, human leaders understand the importance of recognising those in their teams as individuals with different strengths, drivers and triggers. Treating people as individuals and recognising their strengths and where they have room to grow and stretch creates the conditions for psychological safety and will encourage a growth mindset.

Find out how Bailey & French can help you develop more human leaders to help teams thrive in challenging times.