“Genius is not enough; we need to get the job done.”
Carol S. Dweck
The term “mindset” in the context of business typically invokes images of all-star athletes going for the gold or maybe thoughts of positive mental attitude – PMA – the self-development concept first introduced in 1937 by Napoleon Hill in his book Think and Grow Rich.
But that is not where this article is going to lead. Instead, we’re going to look at the research and study that Carol Dweck, the Lewis & Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, performed in the twenty-plus years leading up to her 2006 book titled Mindset. The concepts that Dweck unpacks in the book, and continues to write on in the decade since, have profound applications in organizational leadership.
Dweck’s work divides people into one of two mindsets: fixed or growth. Which one you adopt for yourself, affects how you will lead your life and in extension, how you will lead other people and your organization.
Those people with a fixed mindset feel a compelling need to prove themselves over-and-over again. The reason is that they believe that the intelligence, skill, and aptitude they have is all that they will every have and it can never be expanded. They believe that they have a fixed personality and moral character as well, and that these can never be adjusted or expanded. In short, the fixed mindset person believes that what they have is it – period.
The growth mindset person, however, believes that the intelligence, skill, or aptitude they have in this moment is purely a point of departure. They see their basic qualities as things that can be cultivated through work and experience. This view extends to personality and moral character as well. They believe that the hand they were dealt is just a starting point. In short, the growth mindset person believes that a person’s true potential is entirely unknown.
Growth Versus Fixed Leadership
The mindset you have will affect your leadership style just like your other personality traits and character. The implications of a growth versus fixed mindset on leadership, then, is something else to consider when looking at how your team or organization will perform.
With a fixed mindset, remember that one believes that personality, character, skill and intelligence cannot be adjusted. As a leader, applying this filter to one’s team or organization may mean that certain projects aren’t undertaken or innovation sought because of the real belief that it can’t happen with the people on the team. This situation can stifle creativity and people’s willingness to pursue new processes, innovate, or perhaps find new clients and business opportunities. When it comes to personal or skill development, why bother? If each person’s abilities are fixed, there will be no need to waste resources on training.
The leader viewing his team or organization with a growth mindset, however, will view each individuals current skill set as a starting point. They will be willing to pursue new projects and perhaps purposefully look for innovations that can enhance the team’s or organization’s capability to better deliver benefits and value. When it comes to training people, they will be more willing to invest resources for increasing their employee’s skills and intelligence.
Anecdotally this might sound plausible, but are there facts to back it up? As mentioned, Dweck wrote her 2006 book based on over two decades of research. In the years since, she conducted a study alongside three colleagues – Mary Murphy, Jennifer Chatman, and Laura Kray – and in collaboration with the consulting firm Senn Delaney to find out just how a fixed or growth mindset might actually affect an organization’s success.
The results from exploring this with seven Fortune 1000 companies was that employees understood clearly what each mindset looked like and what the implications were when it was applied. In companies where a fixed mind set the tone, employees felt that only a small handful of the staff were valued (“star” employees). They also tended to be less engaged and motivated with the projects undertaken, feeling that the company didn’t support them. This mean that they were less willing to pursue innovative projects and resorted to keeping secrets, cutting corners and cheating to get ahead.
The repressive nature of the fixed mindset results contrasted starkly with growth minded companies. Employees in these companies reported that they felt the company had their back. This lead them to feel more empowered and committed, resulting in greater collaboration and innovation with colleagues. This lead to a greater willingness to pursue innovative projects and risk failure.
4 Actions to Take To Enhance Organizational Performance Through Mindset
This knowledge is only useful if it’s applied, so consider these four actions to enhance your organization’s performance through mindset:
1. Know your default mindset and the default mindset of your team or managers. By acknowledging which mindset you use, you will be able to quickly consider how your beliefs might affect your leadership of others. At the same time, consider the mindset of your key managers, as their mindset will affect their direct reports.
2. Look for an ability to get the mission accomplished. Even with a fixed mindset, you can lead an innovative organization. You do this by relying on growth minded managers, or team members, who you can trust to take on innovative projects and solve new problems when they arise. Not every person embraces novelty or a continuing learning mentality. On the surface that may seem bad, but it is OK. Every organization requires a mix of innovators and sustainers – people who are relied on to deliver the day-to-day business operations effectively and predictably.
3. Build the organizational mindset you want through action. At the same time, consider what type of organizational mindset that is needed to meet the mission. If your line of work requires innovation and new products, a fixed mindset in the long run isn’t going to be useful. Assess what level of innovation, skill and knowledge development is required and then put the resources in place to make it happen. Remember that people – you included – feel most empowered and valued when they feel like the organization has their back. This goes for whether the person operates with a fixed or growth mindset.
4. Cultivate learning, growth and experience. Even if a fixed mindset is the right one for your organization, you can still cultivate learning, growth and experience. Just because innovation isn’t the top priority doesn’t mean that you cannot put in place opportunities for others to grow within their niche. Brown bag lunches, shadow programs, or short presentations by one organizational element to the others can help your people learn how best to work together. And it will show that there is an interest in the well-being of the people.
Harvard Business Review Staff. “How Companies Can Profit from a.” Harvard Business Review. Harvard Business Review, 01 Nov. 2014. Web. 11 June 2016.
Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House, 2006. Print.